How to Protect Your Child

Did you know that most child victims suffer abuse at the hands of someone they know and trust? Someone that YOU know and trust? We teach our kids not to talk to strangers…but how do we teach them to be safe around the people that they trust – and that we trust. The first step to preventing abuse against our children is awareness and education. As more parents, professionals and community members learn about the realities of child abuse, the effort to combat this serious problem gains strength.

Talk to your child.

  • Teach your children that the parts of their body that a bathing suit covers are private parts and that no one is allowed to see or touch them there.
  • Encourage your child to talk to you about any touch that makes them feel uncomfortable
  • Use everyday situations to keep the conversations about personal safety ongoing.

Protect Your Child on the Internet.

  • Learn about the websites your children use regularly. Visit websites such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube and others. See what other kids are doing there and how much information you can learn by doing simple searches. Parents need to be aware of what is happening on-line.
  • Learn as much as you can about the issues of Internet Safety (look under our Tools & Resources section for websites to help with this).
  • Keep computers in common rooms of the house. Many children have laptops and computers in their bedrooms, allowing them many opportunities to spend hours on-line, potentially engaging in inappropriate behavior.
  • Set the rules about internet safety and your values early on. Teach young children that they should not seek our relationships from on-line friends and that they should NEVER meet on-line friends in the real world.
  • Make any topic of conversation an acceptable topic of conversation. Many teens and pre-teens seek out adult relationships on-line. Ensure that your child has a support system in the real world.

Familiarize yourself with the policies and practices of organizations where your children spend time.

  • Confirm background checks are conducted on all employees and volunteers.
  • Ensure policies are in place that prohibit situations where an adult can be alone with your child in one room when no one else is around.
  • Make sure they actually follow these policies – ask your child, stop by, check in, be aware.

Be vigilant and ASK questions!

  • Watch for changes in your child’s behavior. If your child is reluctant about going to certain places or with certain people, ask questions.
  • Notice their behavior before and after spending time alone with an adult.

Pass it on. Educate yourself. Educate your community.


Signs & Symptoms

The following are signs commonly associated with abuse, but they are not absolutes. This list is not a checklist but a guide to help us identify abuse when it is present.

Physical Abuse

  • Frequent injuries that are unexplained and/or when the child or parent cannot adequately explain their causes such as: bruises, cuts, black eyes, fractures, burns
  • Burns or bruises in an unusual pattern that may indicate the use of an instrument
  • Lack of reaction to pain
  • Injuries that appear after the child has not been seen for several days
  • Evidence of delayed or inappropriate treatment for injuries
  • Injuries involve the face, backs of hands, buttocks, genital area, abdomen, back, or sides of the body
  • Frequent complaints of pain without obvious injury
  • Complaints of soreness or uncomfortable when moving
  • Aggressive, disruptive and destructive or self-destructive behavior
  • Passive, withdrawn, emotionless behavior
  • Fear of going home or seeing parents


  • Obvious malnourishment or inadequate nutrition
  • Lack of personal cleanliness
  • Torn and/or dirty clothes
  • Need for glasses, dental care or other unattended medical attention
  • Consistent hunger, stealing or begging for food
  • Distended stomach, emaciated
  • Lack of supervision for long periods of time
  • Frequent absence or tardiness from school
  • Regularly displays fatigue or listlessness or falls asleep in class
  • Reports that no caretaker is at home
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Extreme loneliness and need for affection

Emotional Abuse

  • Speech disorders
  • Delayed physical development
  • Substance abuse
  • Ulcers, asthma, severe allergies
  • Habit disorders (sucking, rocking, biting)
  • Antisocial, destructive behaviors
  • Delinquent behaviors (especially adolescents)
  • Developmentally delayed

Sexual Abuse

  • Torn, stained or bloody underclothing
  • Pain, swelling or itching in genital area
  • Difficulty walking or sitting
  • Excessive seductiveness, inappropriate sex play or premature understanding of sex
  • Role reversal, overly concerned for siblings
  • Significant weight change
  • Suicide attempts (especially adolescents)
  • Threatened by physical contact, closeness
  • Extreme fear of being alone with adults especially if of a particular gender
  • Sudden refusal to change for gym or to participate in physical activities
  • Sexual victimization of other children
  • Major change in normal mood or behavior


Messages on Personal Safety

Parents can reinforce these messages on personal safety:

  • “I’m on your team.”
  • I’m on your side.  I will always try to help you as best I can, no matter what you tell me, no matter how uncomfortable it is.”
  • “I love you, and it’s my job to help keep you safe.”
  • “Not everyone in the world cares about children.  If someone makes you feel bad or sad, tell me about that, and I’ll try to help.”
  • “You never have to worry that I won’t believe something you tell me.”
  • “If someone tells you to keep a secret from me, I want to know about that.”
  • “Sometimes people we know and trust disappoint us or hurt us in some way.  It’s always OK to tell me about those times.”
  • “It’s up to you to allow someone to hug or kiss you.  Your body is precious and your own. You can choose who you want to hug or kiss.  Nobody should ever force you to do something you don’t like.”

As children enter tween/teen years, parents can continue to add progressively more challenging topics:

  • “What would you think if someone tried to do something you thought was wrong, or someone tried to make you do something you didn’t want to do.  How do you think you might response?”
  • “Would you feel OK telling me about something going on with one of your friends that made you scared or anxious?”
  • “There are people in the world who hurt kids.  Trust your gut, your instincts.  If someone makes you feel bad, tell me about it.”

Parents should also be aware of the policies that child-serving organizations have around child protection.  Parents can ask and can expect straight answers on the following:

  • “What is your policy about one-adult/one-child interactions?  How do you keep those to a minimum?”
  • “What kind of screening and interview processes do you use to make sure that emotionally mature and stable people are interacting with my child?”
  • “Do you do background checks?  What about after someone is hired?”
  • “What kind of trainings do you offer to your staff and volunteers to ensure that everyone knows how to recognize and report abuse?”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *