What could be more precious than a wide-eyed baby who has never known shame? Or a funny naked toddler who loves her big Buddha tummy? Or a totally uninhibited kid who dances happily to whatever music is playing?
Horrifyingly, our children's innocence is a tempting target for all kinds of child predators. While every parent's nightmare is the pervert hiding in the bushes on our child's way to school, reality is that the most threatening predators are far more calculating and capable.
Most sexual assaults on children are committed by people who are known and trusted by the family. Practiced predators are skilled at ingratiating themselves into families and communities for the sole purpose of gaining access to children. Here are five steps you can take to protect your child.
Don't just ask about the person who is taking care of your child, but also know who else will be coming into contact with your child and under what conditions.
If you're leaving your child in a private home, get references and conduct all possible background checks. Perform frequent unannounced visits to ensure that your child's needs are being met.
If someone's paying inappropriate attention to your child, or just plain gives you the willies, now is not the time to be polite. Always question the intentions of people who are anxious to spend lots of one on one time with your child.
Remember that child molesters know how to look normal: they're sometimes married, can have children of their own, they're friendly and easy-going. They can be teachers, members of the clergy, and even old friends and family.
A child who has a sense of her own physical boundaries is far more likely to protest abuse and to report it. From an early age, teach your toddler to say, "STOP!" when she's being touched in a way she doesn't like. Respect your child's boundaries. When she says, "STOP!" during a tickle contest or especially amusing raspberry session, obey immediately. Stop.
When a child expresses reservations about kissing someone -- even you -- don't force her and don't make her feel badly about it. Teach her that her body is her own and she always has the right to say "no." As your child gets older, teach her about good touch and bad touch and that no one has the right to touch or look at her genitals but her parents and her doctor (with her parents present).
If your child expresses reservations about someone, take him seriously. Don't force your child to be with anyone he doesn't want to be with. Ask your child why he feels this way. Did something happen? Is it just a funny feeling? Make sure your child knows that you are listening and interested in his concerns so that he always knows he can talk to you if something happens that upsets or worries him.
Talk to your children, know what's happening in their lives. Predators look for children who are depressed or lonely or who are not getting the attention they need from their own parents. Not only does talking to your children and staying present in their lives help you to be aware of possible danger, it also is a good way to make your child a less vulnerable target. Network with the other parents in the neighborhood so that you know what your kids are doing and with whom.
Child molestation and assault are every parent's worst nightmare. The best defense against it is communication -- talk to your kids, talk to their caregivers and friends and parents. Make sure that your child feels safe in talking to you and that he knows that his body is his own.