I will never forget the conversation. It was my husband’s birthday and my boys and I were driving home to celebrate. As usual, I was asking questions about their day when I was hit with the reality that I had failed my son. Me, a pediatrician! My oldest, who was just 3 at the time, revealed he was being hit by his daycare teacher and that she had been bribing the children with ice cream and telling them not to tell their parents because we would be “scared.” I was horrified as I realized this had been going on for the 6 months he was enrolled at the daycare, in the bathroom of his classroom where there were no cameras.
I spoke with my son and praised him for telling me. I called CPS. I pulled my children from the preschool and immediately resigned as their medical director.
It took CPS a week to get out to us to interview my son. His story was consistent and detailed. The CPS worker informed me his story was true. I was so disappointed in myself for not having taught him what to do/say and horribly emotionally hurt for my son.
It is this awful experience that prompted me to start teaching the children in our practice about what to do if someone is hurting them. At every physical, starting age 2 ½-3 years old, I ask the children the following questions: “What do you do if someone touches you and you don’t want them to? Who do you tell? What do you do if that person says not to tell mom/dad/grandma/etc. because they’ll be scared or mad?” The responses I get from the children range from not knowing what to say or do to being super proud that they know the answers to my questions. Many parents are surprised to see their children’s reactions. Many parents say they didn’t realize they needed to start those discussions so young. Some parents inform me that their children are never with someone who isn’t family and I remind them even family can be inappropriate. I then share my story.
It’s a tough discussion. How do you prepare your child without frightening them? How do you get them to understand that their body is their own? How do you help them get over the fear of the threat?
I tell children that no one is allowed to touch them ANYWHERE on their bodies, not just in their bathing suit area as we were taught as kids. I tell them that if someone “does something bad to them with their words or their body” they MUST tell mom/dad/guardian. I reassure them that they are NOT to keep the “bad thing” a SECRET and that mom/dad/etc are “SUPERHEROES with their capes under their shirt” and that their job is to stop the bad things from happening. I also tell them I’m only allowed to look at their private parts because I’m their doctor and there is a trusted adult with them.
I encourage parents to discuss good touch/bad touch with their children every so often, but before going into someone else’s care. We talk about stranger danger and screaming “you’re not my mommy/daddy” instead of “fire” or “help” if someone tries to grab you. We chat about safety heroes, kind-of-knows, and don’t-knows. Parents learn to have these discussions with their children before going somewhere crowded. I also recommend parents obtain a copy of “The Safe Side” video to view with their children. It’s a fantastic tool to open conversations and help prepare children. It is a video put together by John Walsh from “America’s Most Wanted” and the woman who started the “Baby Einstein” series. It is goofy and informative, and I encourage watching and discussing it with children multiple times.
This is not an easy discussion to have with children, but it must be done. There is a balance that you need to strike between educating and empowering them and causing them to be fearful of the world. I encourage all of you to reach out to your Allied pediatrician if you need help starting this vital conversation. They would be happy to guide you in protecting your children.
Allied Physicians Group is a partnership of more than 150 dedicated, caring physicians and 350 highly trained support staff. Allied serves over 180,000 patients with offices throughout Greater New York City, Long Island, the Hudson Valley, and beyond. Founded in 2006, Allied Physicians Group is a recognized leader in increasing healthcare efficiencies and patient satisfaction, emphasizing support, innovation, and collaboration. If you are looking for a Pediatrician near you click here or for more information please visit https://alliedphysiciansgroup.com/.