We know how overwhelming the holiday season can be. Kids are out of school, you need to get holiday shopping done, you may have family coming to town, or you may be traveling for the holidays. But with all that is happening, it’s more important than ever to remember protecting kids is the priority. Here are some tips to help parents and caregivers:
1. Discuss Boundaries
During the holidays, there are additional friends and family members around and some may want to hug your child, may want to play, tickle, and even have your child sit on their lap. Boundaries and respect are keys to empowering your kids to say no to unwanted touches, pictures, etc. by adults or other children (be sure to tell your child that other children may also do things that are inappropriate or unsafe).
Let your child and others know this is a decision your child can make based on THEIR comfort level. If your child (or any other child in your life) says “no” or “stop,” their decision (and their boundaries) should be respected.
2. Pay Attention to Signs of Abuse
Many times, adults have a feeling that something is not quite right between an adult and a child, but they disregard that feeling because the adult in question is a family member or trusted friend, someone they think could never harm their child. The truth is, 90% of children are sexually abused by someone they and the family knows well, and 70% by a family member. Additionally, abuse can happen at the hands of another child, so also be alert to relationships and activities between kids. Your child depends on you to keep them safe. If you have a gut feeling something is not right, ask questions, stop in, check back, and follow up. You owe it to your child to pay attention and take action if you feel or know something is not right. Read the MBF Safety Brief: Identifying and Reporting Child Abuse to learn more about the signs of child abuse.
3. Explain Secrets vs Surprises
Secrets are often the way abusers keep children silent (i.e. “This will be our little secret”). Explain to children that secrets are usually about something unsafe or bad and aren’t meant to be told to anyone, ever and surprises are for fun, good things and are meant to be told at the right time. Remind your child that if anyone, an adult, or another child ever asks them to keep a secret, they should tell you or a Safe Adult right away.
4. Limit One-on-One Situations
Alone-time between your child and another adult should be limited, if possible. And when needed, you should look for opportunities where that time is interruptible and observable. Let your child’s caregiver/babysitter know you may drop in unannounced and that you will follow up by asking your child lots of questions. The fact that 80% of sexual abuse occurs in one adult – one child situations means that if you eliminate or minimize these situations, you will have already provided better protection for your child!
One-on-one time between children can also provide an opportunity for inappropriate behavior (30% of all child sexual abuse cases are by a child instead of an adult), so monitor these situations as well.
The key is early and ongoing communication. Look for ways to start the conversations – extra guests sleeping in the house or trips to visit family and friends are both good ways to begin this type of conversation, and then look for ways to keep the communications going. Two-way communications, where your child feels like they can come to you to ask questions must be ongoing! Parents must ensure the environment and the relationship is conducive to this happening!
5. Use the MBF 5 Safety Rules©
The MBF 5 Safety Rules are taught to children and teens in all MBF Prevention Education Programs. The Safety Rules are strategies designed to help children, teens, and adults identify and respond to abuse, bullying, and other types of victimization.
- Safety Rule #1 – Know What’s Up
- Safety Rule #2 – Spot Red Flags
- Safety Rule #3 – Make A Move
- Safety Rule #4 – Talk It Up
- Safety Rule #5 – No Blame | No Shame
Give kids the tools to protect themselves! Visit the MBF Safety Rules Resource page and learn more.
6. Manage Stress Properly
Increased time commitments and financial demands impact all families during the holidays, and sometimes, in some situations, this may lead to short tempers and possibly physical abuse of a child.
If you are feeling like you may hurt your own child, please know there are things you can do to get help:
- Take a breather… sort of a time out for adults! Send your child to their room and/or you go to another room and take some time to de-stress and calm down when you are feeling like you are going to lose control.
- Call a friend and ask for support. Often people don’t want to ask others for help, but that’s what family and friends are for; and most of the time, they would be happy to help, they just don’t know what we need! Asking for help is not a sign of weakness – it’s a sign of strength and love for your child!!!
- If that is not enough, you can always reach out for additional support. In Florida, contact the Florida abuse hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE (1-800-962-2873); outside of Florida, find your state hotline information at www.childwelfare.gov/organizations.
- Watch for signs of increased stress and possible abuse in a friend or neighbor’s family. If you suspect this, talk to the adult and tell them you too feel increased pressure during the holidays and ask if there is any way you can help lighten their load.
- If you suspect a child is being or has been harmed, please make a report to get the family the support they need. In Florida, contact the Florida abuse hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE (1-800-962-2873); outside of Florida, find your state hotline information at www.childwelfare.gov/organizations.
Remember, the holidays are about family and friends, and we want it to be a safe and happy time for everyone, including kids! We at the Monique Burr Foundation for Children wish you and your entire family a safe and happy holiday season!