The air is getting cooler, and the holidays are just around the corner. If you are anything like me, you cannot wait to put a few logs on the fire and enjoy lots of time celebrating with family and friends. However, before we jump into the cheer and excitement, it is important to remember the safety and security of all of our household members during this season of joy.
At Baltimore Child Abuse Center, we like to remind families that the holidays can be a risky time for children. While there are no statistics saying that the risk for abuse increases at this time of year, circumstances surrounding the holidays make it easier for abuse to occur. Extended family and friends are in and out of our homes, kids are running around, and it is easy to be distracted by activities going on around us and lose sight of the safety of our children.
What can you do this holiday season to keep your child safe? First, learn the signs and symptoms of abuse — significant changes in behaviors, personalities or activities, age inappropriate knowledge of sex or sexual activity and avoidance of undressing or wearing excessive clothing. Second, here are some of Baltimore Child Abuse Center’s tips and tricks for keeping kids safe this holiday season:
Talk Body Safety: No matter the age, it is important to use developmentally appropriate language and help children name their body parts and understand healthy boundaries. Giving kids the proper language to talk about their bodies helps them to identify and communicate when something is happening to those parts. Looking for help on where to start? There are great videos from the MyBodyBelongstoMe.com.
Don’t Force Hugs or Tickles or Other Touches: Respect your child’s decision to protect their body and space. Their body is theirs and they deserve to be the boss. Respect their “no” and teach others they aren’t being rude but establishing their boundaries. Remember an abuser won’t typically touch body parts that a bathing suit covers but will slowly try to groom a child and their parents through other more “normal” touches. This isn’t about good touch, bad touch because sometimes bad touches feel good. Instead teach your kids to be the boss of their body and tell you anytime something feels weird or uncomfortable.
Create a Family Safety Plan: What can your kid do if something is happening that they don’t like or don’t want? How can they communicate with you and protect themselves?
Print out BCAC’s Family Safety Plan from our website and complete it with your kids. It is a great opportunity to talk through the steps of keeping themselves safe, who they can tell and how they can protect themselves.
Don’t Keep Secrets: Tell your children that there are no secrets kept in your family, and no one should ever ask them to keep a secret. Talk about surprises instead — how we surprise people with gifts and presents on their birthday or planning a party. The difference is that surprises are always shared with others and secrets are not. Help your child to understand what they can do if someone asks them to keep a secret.
Have more questions or want to learn more, visit us at bcaci.org to learn more, complete an online training and become prepared to recognize, respond, and report abuse.
Remember that while the holidays are joyful and fun for most, they can also be a stressful, risky time for children. Read the signs your child may be giving you and stay in regular communication with them.
We wish you a safe and happy holiday season!
Drew Fidler, LCSW-C, is the Director of Prevention & Education for Baltimore Child Abuse Center. She works with Youth Serving Organizations to analyze their systems relating to protecting youth from abuse and trauma, conducts trainings, and creates programs for organizations.