September 27, 2012

Tackling Difficult Topics with Your Children

By Amy Alvarez, MSW
Program Manager
Mississippi Valley Child Protection Center
Child Abuse Council

As a parent and/or role model in the life of a child, it is our responsibility to teach our children right from wrong, not to talk to strangers and to look before crossing the street. We teach these things in an effort to protect our children and to allow them to protect themselves when we are not around.

One topic many children are not educated about, is the importance of their own bodies and the fact that each and every one of us has parts of our bodies that are private. This topic often gets overlooked, as people feel it is not appropriate to talk with young children about their genitalia and more importantly how to properly identify their own genitalia using the correct names. It is extremely important to have these conversations, as it is the first line of defense against our children being sexually assaulted or being taken advantage of due to their age and development level.

At the Mississippi Valley Child Protection Center in Muscatine, it is our job to interview children who are involved in allegations of sexual abuse. We interact with a number of children who are taken advantage of due to the fact that they were led to believe that molestation is a game and something to be enjoyed. Unfortunately, since these children have not been told otherwise, these sexual “games” can carry on for months or even years. In one case, a child only disclosed abuse because she wanted to play the “night-night” game with her father. When asked what the “night-night” game was, it was revealed she was being sexually assaulted on a regular basis.

Children are taught to listen to adults, and that adults are to protect them. This respect for authority, and the fact that biologically being touched in the genitalia is a pleasurable experience, young children are at an increased risk of being targeted by sex offenders. People who hurt kids know this and can easily take advantage of children who are not taught otherwise. While talking with our children will not protect them from being sexually assaulted, it will teach them that being touched on their private parts, or in any way that makes them feel uncomfortable, is not okay. With this knowledge, children may be able stop any abuse before it progresses, as they will know that they can confide in you as their caretaker.

Conversations about private parts and touching do not have to be uncomfortable or awkward. Children do not know this is a sensitive subject. Therefore, it is easy to integrate these conversations into daily activities. One example is a young child who needs assistance bathing or using the toilet. You can use this time to identify the fact that they have parts of the body that are private that others are not supposed to see or touch. At the same time, reinforcing the fact that if anyone was to touch them or ask them to do something to their private parts that makes them feel uncomfortable, to let you or another adult know right away. By approaching this topic in a comfortable and routine setting, the child will not be scared or afraid of their body. In turn, their protective factors will be increased, and they will be more knowledgeable. Knowledge is power.

For information about the Child Abuse Council’s prevention, education and treatment programs, you can visit us at, or call at (309)786-1466, or contact Amy at