The Smallest Elephant Called Touch
A mother’s touch is said to be most important for the well being of a baby. We are advised to keep children close to our bodies to strengthen the lifelong connect. Many mothers out here may have also experienced this moment, as soon as the baby is born, when the doctor places him/her on our bare skin. It’s magical to say the least. Being physically close to children is something we do when they are young.
But as they grow, the frequency of hugs and kisses come down. It’s common, but is it truly inevitable? Is it something to do with our culture? In many countries, the main form of greeting itself is an embrace or a kiss. We, as Indians, tend to shy away from this. Ask us why and we can only think of a reason that it’s what we are taught and that’s what we mostly see around us. However, the same touch that brings us closer to people we love, can also bring fear and resentment in our lives.
This is when the touch is inappropriate and not with mutual consent. We are talking about Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) here. This is the first topic we have chosen to discuss and talk about. So, how do we know that a hug is not just an expression of love, how do we understand when a kiss is placed out of lust and how different are the workings of a twisted mind? The sad reality is that it is truly difficult to understand.
As parents, we couldn’t think of anyone hurting our little ones. We wanted to know and understand how parents around us deal with this issue. How have they tried to enable and empower their little ones against this demon. To enable us with this, we conducted a survey and about 140 amazing mothers shared their thoughts with us. This survey revealed some encouraging facts and figures to us.
Let’s now discuss some of these facts here.
Introducing body parts to children
66 per cent of the mothers who took the survey said that they have introduced the body parts, including the private parts, to their children, while about 24 per cent of them have not yet gotten around to talking about private parts yet. 10 per cent of the mothers haven’t yet introduced the concept of body.
So, which of these categories do you fit into? Whichever it might be – know that it’s fine. We are all unique in our way and each of our parenting styles are different. Some of us may be comfortable discussing the concept of body with our children, while some of us might not be. But let’s do this for the sake of our children because they need to know.
They need to know what their private parts are called; just like the head is called head and the toe is called toe. Name the genitals, like maybe susu place, pee pee place, potty place. Call them anything, but don’t use names that are ambiguous like flower or pokey. That is very important. To start with, use names that are associated with the bodily functions of these parts and maybe, as the child grows let’s try and use the actual names. Why not? What’s wrong in calling a penis a penis? Or a vagina a vagina? They are just names. Let them know that there is no shame associated with the body. It’s normal and human. Every other uncomfortable feeling and uneasy thought is in the mind of an adult. Until adults put it into the heads of our children, there will be no discomfiture on their part.
Help them to give a name and let them know that there is nothing embarrassing about it, especially since by doing so – you are empowering them. And empowerment can never be wrong.
The trust factor
Amongst the mothers who took out the time to answer our survey, 41.5 per cent of them have introduced this topic to their children, while the others haven’t yet done so. However, a majority of mothers believe their children are too young to be spoken to about this topic. And in all probability, they might be right because mothers know what’s best for their kids.
So, this got us thinking about how young is too young?
It’s true that we cannot possibly start talking about good and bad touches to a one-year-old. But don’t we help them identify eyes, ears, nose et al? So, why not teach them susu place and potty place? At that age, there’s really no embarrassment! Build faith in your children and let them know and feel the faith. In fact it was a beautiful moment when we realised that every mother who took the survey responded saying they trust their child.
Are you thinking why trust is important? Because that is the foundation of your relationship with your child. It’s the trust that will make him or her come to you. It is the trust that will allow him or her to cry to you. And it is that trust that will make everything normal.
So, think about this: What do we do when our little one says his/her stomach is full during a meal? Do we trust them and stop or do we say, “No, you are not full I know that. Eat more. Finish this.” What do we do when our child says his/her milk is too hot? Do we say, “It isn’t, I know it.” So, where is the trust here? How about stopping ourselves from forcing them to finish food always? Yes, let them have it their way, at least they’ll feel – Ma listens to me. If it’s a tantrum, they will come back to us when they are hungry. Or when they say the milk is too hot, maybe it isn’t for us. But maybe it is for them. Just like what’s comfortable for us might be uncomfortable for them. So, how about taking the milk inside and bringing it back saying you’ve cooled it down?
The good touch and bad touch
Yes, so this is a topic that has got some of its due in the past couple of years. At least, from what we saw. But know that it is never enough. We could talk about the good touch and bad touch until the cows come home, but let’s also know that talking alone will do no good.
We need to understand and accept that we cannot monitor our children always. We wish we could, but it is not humanly possible. Also, how much do we stop them from? Isn’t childhood supposed to be a phase of discovery and enjoyment? And being naïve? How can we snatch away everything in the name of safety? Why do we have to spread fear and doubt in the little minds instead of empowering them?
Always ensure that you stand up for your child. No matter when and where, as long as it is about their safety and comfort. No matter who is on the other end – a friend, a foe, a family member or a stranger. It is easy to stand up against a stranger. Always. Loved ones are tougher.
How do we discuss this elephant?
So, if it were you how would you discuss this topic? Of the mothers who took the survey, 56 per cent of them thought conversations and discussions were the best tools to explore this topic with their children. However, a 27 per cent used videos, books and stories to introduce this topic to their children. There are a number of books in the market that can be used to introduce the topic to different age groups of children. Some of them are:
1. It’s My Body
2. I Said No
3. The Right Touch: A Read-Aloud Story to Help Prevent Child Sexual Abuse
4. Your Body Belongs to You
5. Kidpower Safety Series from ages 3 to young adults
Also in the recent past, quite a number of videos have been created for CSA Awareness. It would be a good idea to watch these with your children as a starting point so as to initiate the topic and surge their curiosity. Some of the videos are free to view on YouTube. Links to a few videos are given below.
1. Good touch bad touch
2. Keep our Children SAFE ! Learn the difference between Good Touch and Bad Touch
3. Good Touch & Bad Touch: What’s the Difference?
4. Good Touch-Bad Touch: A video by Podar Jumbo Kids
5. UNICEF: Good touch / Bad touch Child Secret Agents PSA (Trinidad)
The remaining 17 per cent took the help of near and dear family members and friends to introduce this topic.
We shall leave you with a few questions to ponder on.
How would you discuss this topic with your child?
Do you have that one person you or your child could turn to in case you need help in this area?
Would you like teachers or schools to introduce this topic to your children?
Remember, childhood comes along just once and let’s do our best to not scar it for our little ones just because we are uncomfortable. It is not fair that they bear the cross of our fear.
Uma is a mother of a three-year-old boy, and Rashmi has two daughters aged five and one. They were introduced to each other by their husbands who are great friends, and today, they believe their meeting was a moment of serendipity. They share their passion for reading, writing and children. They are both Gemini women, which means they are really four! Motherhood has been a turning point in both their lives, a journey in which they are co-travellers. They hope to enjoy this ride to the fullest, with lots of fun, grace and honesty.