Thursday, November 12, 2009

MY BODY BELONGS TO ME: Talking with Preschoolers about Sexual Abuse


For those of you who do not know, I am a therapist.  Many of the clients I see have been sexually abused.  As parents, we think that such a horrible offense could never happen to our children.  The fact is that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys experience sexual abuse.  Think for a minute about your child’s playgroup…statistics  tell us that a child in that playgroup is being sexually abused.  That adds a whole new perspective to it doesn’t it? Ninety-three percent of the abusers are not strangers but in the child’s “circle of trust”.  I can tell you that from the individuals I have counseled, many of them started being abused when they were preschool age.  You can not wait to talk to your children about sexual abuse-the time must be now.

I have found a wonderful little book that will aide you in talking to your children about sexual abuse called “My Body Belongs To Me”, written by Jill Starishevsky and illustrated by Sara Muller.   I personally own about 10 different books about sexual abuse, but this has quickly become my favorite. 

The writing is perfect for little ones with rhyming such as “Mom and Dad once told me I was their little gem, and if someone hurt me to always come to them.”  The illustrations feature an adorable child that looks to be about preschool age, making the story more appealing to the younger audience.  The child is gender neutral in the way they look, so this book can appeal to either a boy or girl.  What I like most about this book is that it doesn’t address sexual abuse metaphorically or hint around it-it just straight out says that someone tries to touch the child: “My uncle’s friend came over and sat down next to me, and touched me in that place that no one else can see.”  It also addresses that many sexual abusers attempt to keep their victim quiet, telling them it is a secret.  The child runs to her parents who tell them they are proud of her for telling and how brave she is.  Children need to hear this because many keep the secret out of fear parental reaction. 

I see most parents telling their children the names of their body parts…but so often that conversation doesn’t expand to telling the children that they have private parts that belong to them.  How is it that our children are taught their colors, alphabet, and how to read…but not how to protect themselves? So often, I’ve asked the parents of abused children if they talked to their children about sexual abuse and their responses are sometimes “I thought he was too young”, “I was a stay-at-home mom so I didn’t think there would be an opportunity for it to happen to her”, “I didn’t think she’d understand”, or “I was going to—I thought he needed to be a little older”.  PLEASE realize that your children could be at risk.   The abuser could be the person who watches your children in the church nursery, the neighbor who is always so friendly, the wonderful teacher, or another child on the playground.  Child abusers are groomers and manipulators-they know EXACTLY what to do to make your children trust them.  I urge you to prepare your little ones. 

Talking to young children about sexual abuse without a book or some kind of age appropriate tool is very difficult.  This book gives the perfect message you want to get across-your child has private parts, no one has the right to touch these areas, the abuser may ask to child to keep a secret, the child should run and tell a trusted adult,  the parents will think the child is brave for telling, and the child will feel good about telling. 


If you plan on purchasing a book for your child soon…perhaps you can hold off on another book about ABC’s, princesses, or trains…and get a book they need to hear. 

You can order this book for $14.95 at

To view sample pages, please click here.  


DangAndBlast! said...

Thanks for that! My mother - or perhaps Mother's Day Out (in any case, I was very young) - taught me, if it's covered by your bathing suit, nobody should touch it except you, your mommy, your daddy, or your doctor, and then only if there's a reason to. Lesson stuck!

I see all these people writing about how important it is to teach children to talk to strangers, to trust strangers (and everyone else), etc. -- to which I reply, sure, that's nice, as long as you're also teaching them when *not* to talk to strangers, when *not* to trust strangers (and everyone else), etc. Yes, it's rare (relatively speaking -- even with the highest stats, from strangers it's a minority), but when your child is the one that trustingly walks off with the nice abductor who has something fun to show them, or doesn't see any reason to be rude (you've always told them to do what people ask them to) and refuse a request to "hold what's in my pants for a minute," it's also your fault for refusing to teach them that the world isn't all shiny unicorns.

The girl who painted trees said...

Thank you so much! That statistic is so scary! What other books do you recommend on this subject?

Nicki said...

I'm definitely going to order this book n the near future! We've talked to the kids many times about how nobody is allowed to touch them in ways that make them uncomfortable, and about how they never have to (and never should) keep secrets from mommy, daddy, grandma, etc. But this book seems like a great way to back the message up in a non-scary way!