Rosalia Rivera, an abuse prevention specialist and consent educator, joins Janet to outline how parents and caregivers can help prevent sexual abuse by educating the children in their lives about body safety, boundaries and consent. Rosalia is the mother of three young children and is herself a child sexual abuse survivor. She hosts the podcast “AboutConsent” and is the founder of Consent Parenting, an online platform that offers courses, workshops, a support group, and a plan of action for parents to protect their children.
Transcript of “Abuse Prevention Strategies to Keep Our Kids Safe (with Rosalia Rivera)”
Hi, this is Janet Lansbury. Welcome to Unruffled. Today, I’m so excited, I have a very special guest with me. Her name is Rosalia Rivera. She’s a passionate consent educator. She’s an abuse prevention specialist, a sexual literacy advocate, and a survivor turned thriver. That’s how she describes herself. She’s the host of the podcast About Consent. She’s also the founder of Consent Parenting, which is an online platform where she offers courses, workshops, and membership for adult CSA survivor parents, so that they can learn how to protect their families from abuse.
So welcome, Rosalia. Thank you so much for being here.
Rosalia Rivera: Thank you so much for inviting me. I love all of your work, so I’m super excited to be here.
Janet Lansbury: Thank you.
Well, I think it will help the parents listening if we can focus in to start out with at least on this very scary issue of child sexual abuse. As you know, and I only know a little bit about this, the statistics are daunting.
Rosalia Rivera: Very, and it’s the scary thing too is these are just the numbers that are reported. So the numbers are likely higher than what is being put out there. And parents are surprisingly still unaware of how prevalent and what the potential is for their families. And it’s been increased by the access through online predators. So it’s now a twofold situation.
Janet Lansbury: So what are some of the basics that we can do as parents to arm our children, or to help them to develop that healthy sense of their boundaries, and asserting them, making it less likely that they’re going to be victims?
Rosalia Rivera: So I always recommend to parents to start as early as possible. You can teach about consent from birth. A lot of it is more about the way that we speak to our children and our intention, and how we communicate to let them know that we are willing to communicate about our physical exchanges — everything from changing a diaper to bathing them. Usually it’s around the time when parents are starting to potty train that this starts to come up because they’re realizing that other people may start to need to help them with this process. And the concept of “private parts” starts to come into play. So usually, that’s when parents will start to think about it.
But you can start from as early as possible by teaching children some of the basics of body safety, which is teaching them the correct anatomical names for their private parts — that’s part of body safety. Also in the fact that you’re teaching body positivity.
I was raised with not using the correct terms because there was a lot of shame in the household around bodies and sexuality. And my mom’s also a survivor, and she just didn’t know how to approach it.
So if we can start with some of those basics of body safety — of teaching the right names and then talking about safe and unsafe touch.
There’s three, really, that you can start with, which is the private parts, correct anatomical names, teaching about safe and unsafe touch, and privacy, right? Around those parts.
And then the third piece is about secrets, and explaining the difference between secrets and surprises, that sort of distinction, right? To help a child understand. Because there are a lot of well-meaning adults who… a lot of times it could be grandparents who want to gift a child something, and they think it’s just an innocent thing to tell the child: “Don’t tell your parents, because they’re probably not going to approve of me giving you candy.” Or whatever it is, right? And again, a well-meaning person. But it sets up the wrong precedent for being able to keep secrets.
So if we can make the distinction for kids about secrets and surprises, and encourage the adults in our children’s lives not to ever ask our children to keep even well-meaning secrets — educating the people in our child’s lives who are caregivers about the fact that we’re going to be embarking on abuse prevention education. You’re sort of putting up a red flag to potential predators to say: “We’re going to be on top of this. We’re going to be aware.”
And then, as the child develops, to layer the different aspects that are a little bit more complex, while still making it accessible for them.
Janet Lansbury: I love that you brought up talking to the adults, because I think that’s so important when we consider the imbalance of power between young children and adults. Especially if it’s Grandmother, or Uncle, or somebody that’s part of their family. How hard is it for a child to still overrule, in a way, something that this adult is doing with them?
Rosalia Rivera: Yeah. And that’s one of the things that I teach is how to communicate with those adults. Because we tend to have this fear, like we don’t want to insult anyone or make them feel uncomfortable. Because it’s a different way of seeing and approaching children, I think, than a lot of our own parents had, right? Grandparents, or even relatives. Sometimes it’s cultural. They’re just used to being able to go in and give a hug and a kiss. And I think that that is starting to shift. There’s a lot more talk about giving kids the right to choose how they want to show affection and how they want to greet someone. But there’s still a lot of pushback from those adults. And sometimes they may try to guilt a child and make them feel bad for not giving affection. And if we don’t communicate with those adults and say that’s actually against what we’re teaching… There are diplomatic ways of saying it and having these conservations. All of it always comes down to communication.
But if we can be that frontline for our kids, particularly when they’re so young that they’re still learning this… We’re teaching through modeling. Because when we vocalize that on behalf of our kids and they hear us talking about it, they’re learning that language and they’re learning that they have the right. We’re encouraging them and backing them up. It’s being vocalized. And it gives them that reassurance that they can assert their rights to their boundaries.
When we do that, we create consent culture within our homes, within our families, and then ultimately within our communities. Because those adults will think twice about doing that to other kids. Again, it’s all well-intentioned, but ultimately it sets up the potential for abuse and for grooming.
The statistics are that 90% of abuse happens to kids by people that they know. And more specifically, it’s not just by people that they know, but people that they trust, that they love, and that they’ve developed a bond with. So when abuse happens, it can be really confusing for a child because this is someone that they learned to trust and care for who’s now eroded a boundary or crossed a line, or violated a boundary. And if we don’t reassure children that it’s okay to talk about it, to disclose it, and to do it in a way that is honoring their intuition, their physiological response to an event like that… If we don’t teach those things, we are really kind of setting them up for not reporting. For feeling guilty about this is somebody that I love and I care for, I guess it’s okay. Or I don’t know what to do.
And if that person has threatened or bribed them, that’s another layer that they have to figure out how to navigate. Because they may still love that person, but they just want the abuse to end. And they don’t know what would happen if they told someone. So us helping set them up for being able to uphold their boundaries. And then if they get crossed, that they can go to someone to get help really goes a long way between prevention and then at least reporting so it doesn’t become a repeat situation.
Janet Lansbury: Yeah. That makes sense. And also you’re reminding me of a very powerful way that can be kind of organic for us to intervene, and model, and have the boundary with the adults that we’re teaching — the adult and the child at the same time. And this could be true with a tiny newborn as well to kind of interpret for the child. So let’s say somebody wants to hold my baby. And I look at my baby and I say, “Grandma would like to hold you now. Is that okay with you?” And then I will get a sense right there of whether my child is pulling back. Maybe not with a newborn, but with a very young infant. You can tell when they’re kind of hesitant or if they’re open to it. So we can say to the adult, “It seems like she’s saying no, for now.”
So right there, you’ve taught so many lessons. You’ve taught this adult this is a person with a point of view, actually. What they think matters. And we’re teaching our child: You have a point of view that matters, and I’m going to stick up for you and make sure that you know that and other people know that.
So those opportunities where we are there I think are really, really important as teaching times.
Rosalia Rivera: Yeah.
And one of the things you had mentioned before, and I want to just kind of circle back to for a second is that we tend to think of abuse prevention education as something scary. And I think that’s why a lot of people have apprehension about where to start or how to teach it. And the way that I approach it, particularly because I’m a survivor and I know how almost debilitating the triggers can be when you start to talk about certain things that were part of your own experience, is that we want to start by empowering our children with information that makes them feel good about the rights that they do have and how we are going to honor them and help them uphold them. Versus talking about dangers that are potential things that they’re going to come across.
So with the framework that I teach, I always start from this place of empowerment. And it starts with teaching kids about their autonomy. And we can support that concept with them by the way that we interact with them, besides just how we teach them how they can interact with others.
So a lot of times when I’m going through this education process, we start with simple little things that may seem like not a big deal, but they’re really big. And when you start to put them all together, you start to notice how many times we inadvertently just manage our children instead of giving them the autonomy to learn how to manage themselves.
A simple example would be when we tell a child to go brush their teeth and we’re commanding them to do something with their body. Versus asking them if they can go brush their teeth. That may seem like a very minute shift. But when we start to apply that to all the ways that we talk to our kids, it really makes you understand how we cross boundary lines all the time or we remove their autonomy on a regular basis.
I always talk about that this is going to require you to make a big shift in your parenting. Going from telling your child what to do to asking your child, as long as it doesn’t interfere with health and safety. And we have to even think about these little caveats of if my child doesn’t eat, is that a health and safety issue, knowing that they had really nutritious lunch? And they’re saying that they’re full now, do I push that I think that they should be eating more? Or is it that I was conditioned by my own parents to finish everything on my plate?
There are a lot of shifts that happen just from this one piece. But it’s the biggest foundation for consent because you’re teaching a child about their body rights. And when we are not congruent, we’re not matching our words with our actions to say: Your body belongs to you, but I’m still going to tell you how to run your life as it relates to your body. We’re giving them mixed messages. So it has to start with this foundation, which is really empowering for kids. But it’s a little bit of a struggle for parents.
But if you start with that solid foundation of educating them about their rights and layering it from there to boundaries, and consent, and all those pieces, it really sets them up for this feeling of empowerment. And from there, the scary stuff isn’t as scary because they know that they have resources and tools, and rights that they are entitled to. And it takes a lot of that fear out of it.
At the end of the process that I teach, we talk about exit strategies. So by the time they get to that piece, that learning piece of exit strategies, they’re not fearful. They feel like: Okay, I have some ways to get out of potentially dangerous situations that are empowering.
Janet Lansbury: That makes a lot of sense. And you’re speaking to something really important, I guess it’s kind of obvious, but we tend to forget that what we do matters much more than what we say. It will always be the most powerful thing and always overrule in terms of what children are learning. We can read books to our children or talk about consent, and “this is your body” and all that. But the way that we approach our child as early as possible, and with the approach I teach we’re, from birth, laying the foundation, it’s giving our child a message about where they fit in the world, where they are in a relationship with us, if their point of view matters, if they’re in partnership with us, or if they are passive and we do things to them.
So that’s why with the RIE approach that I teach, we talk to them right away about, “I’m going to pick you up now. Are you ready?” But I think people misunderstand that you’re waiting for an infant to tell you it’s okay to pick them up or change their diaper or something. And it’s not so much that we’re waiting for them to say yes, but we’re teaching them from the beginning that they’re a part of this and that we’re open to their ideas about things and their feelings about things. And we’re not going to just be the ones that do things to them. That they’re a part of a relationship and that they’re respected.
So before this term ‘consent’ became a popular term, we just talked about respect — that you develop this relationship of respect with your child. And that means so many things, like what you were saying about brushing your teeth. We forget as parents sometimes this voice can come out of us that might be our own parents… It’s this kind of authoritarian voice maybe that’s more like, “Do this, do that.” And that’s how we think we’re supposed to be with our child instead of being really polite, and warm, and caring. “I know you don’t love to do this, but we got to do it. Can you do it yourself? Or should we do it together?” Just those pleases and kind words about doing things can make a big difference to show a child that they’re respected, and that you’re there to kind of guide them. Because they can’t make every decision themselves of course. They do need us.
Rosalia Rivera: Yeah, exactly. And also that teaches them that their voice can be heard, right? And a lot of times, if we did grow up with authoritarian parents, which I did, I just thought that my opinion about whatever it was that I didn’t want to do just didn’t count. So I had to comply. And I think a lot of parents kind of go into that default, like you said, where they think the child has to listen. And the child essentially is being taught that their voice doesn’t matter or their voice is not going to be heard. You do that often enough, and it shuts that down a lot of times for a child.
So we want them to always know that their voice does matter and that they can use it, and they should use it especially if they find themselves in unsafe situations. So practicing that and giving them that ability, it really does need to be practiced. Consent has to be embodied. That means knowing what it sounds like, feels like, looks like when somebody is saying no and that no is being respected. Getting kids used to that being the standard.
All of that is about that two way communication that you develop with your child. So instead of it being a one way where you’re telling them what to do and they don’t have a say.
Janet Lansbury: Right. But then there are times that we do have to insist physically if you don’t want to hold my hand when we’re on the sidewalk. But my child has shown me that they tend to run off sometimes during this time of life, for whatever reason. So there, you can still respect by encouraging them to share how mad they are that you’re doing that. “I know I have to do this thing that makes you really mad, but I’ve got to do it. You’re too important.” So we still need to be the adult that’s guiding them.
Rosalia Rivera: For sure. That’s what I was saying when it comes to health and safety, and those are conversations you can also have ahead of time.
When you’re making this parenting shift, I always tell parents you need to have this conversation with them to say, “I’ve been doing things this way, but this is some new education that I wasn’t raised with. So we’re going to transition to doing things this way. And that means you get more autonomy. And this is what that means. However, my job is to keep you safe and keep you healthy. So there are times when you won’t be able to say yes or no to certain things, because it’s a safety type situation.”
I say talk to your kids and get them to figure out what could be some health and safety situations where I will have to step in. So they may say, “Crossing the street.” Or, “if we are in the mall, we have to hold hands because you don’t want to get lost.” So things like that. Right? And you can set them up ahead of time. Or if you know you’re going somewhere to remind them, “Okay, so we’re going to the doctors and we’re going to be doing this vaccination.” So talking ahead to say that these are the exceptions that we have to make sure we’re keeping you safe with.
It’s just always a communication, you know?
And I always encourage parents to leave some white space to be able to implement those things without it being a dramatic event. Sometimes it’s inevitable and it will be. But the more we can communicate and let them know what’s going on instead of just assuming that they know or that we’re just going to do things the way that we intend to do them and not include them in that conversation or that process, the more we can give them room to assert, but also to understand that there’s situations that require safety. Then it makes it a lot easier to navigate that relationship.
Janet Lansbury: That’s a great point to prepare them for that and allow them to partner in that, even thinking of the ideas themselves. And then it’s like these stories that come true that children love, even if it’s something somewhat unpleasant like: You’re making me hold your hand. We talked about this, and I knew this was going to happen. There’s a real acceptance and kind of confidence building that happens there when children are a part of it.
I just want to say one more time, because so many people that I talk to, there’s this misconception that the first year or first two years for some people is this part that doesn’t matter. But if we can start this early (and this doesn’t mean if you didn’t, it’s too late — you can make changes at any time), but the beginning of life is the most impressionable time. This is when the foundation is getting built. So I just can’t encourage parents enough to start engaging with your baby as a full human being, from the beginning, that’s a part of a relationship with you, and preparing them for the things that are going to kind of happen. It’s so important.
Rosalia Rivera: Yeah.
Janet Lansbury: I’m wondering what you think about, I guess these are sort of hot button topics: tickling, rough housing. How do these activities fit with empowering our children?
Rosalia Rivera: So do you mean between adults and kids or kids and kids?
Janet Lansbury: Adults and kids.
Rosalia Rivera: Okay. The tickling thing is actually one of the more common questions that I get, because there’s this whole idea that tickling is just fun. And if you’re tickling a child and they’re laughing, then that means that that’s consent.
When they’re really young, we can still make it fun and ask them, “Do you want to play a tickling game?” With my kids for example, they love me pretending to be the tickle monster. And we’ve actually turned it into a consent game. So I will pretend to be the tickle monster chasing them around. And they’ve learned that if they don’t want to be tickled for whatever reason, it’s almost kind of part of the game that they’ll say, “No consent.” And then I have to stop right away.
So I think that we just have to shift the way that we approach it. We can still engage in these fun activities, but we want to make sure that they know they can always say stop. And we stop immediately instead of pushing that boundary, which is tempting to do when kids are really tiny and they’re so cute, and you just want to tickle them. We are teaching them that we honor that vocalized no.
And even adults who may not know our kids all that well, maybe a family member who wants to go in for a tickle, we can on behalf of our kids let them know: “this is something that we’re exploring because we’re doing consent education.” So tickling is only if that permission has been granted.
So a lot of times, it’s just communicating with all the adults in our kids’ lives and then letting our kids know, “All of these activities are fun as long as you feel that they’re fun. And you always have the right to say stop because consent can always be withdrawn.” And I think that that part about consent and learning that consent can be withdrawn is also really powerful because predators could take advantage of that. And if a child thinks, “Well, I consented to being tickled, but now it’s turned into something else.” And the adult is telling me, “Well, you said it was okay.” They can really mess with a child’s mind about that.
So teaching a child that consent can always be withdrawn in any situation, it can be taught as part of that play. Part of learning about physical interaction is through play and through exploring communication styles.
A lot of times we’re also teaching kids that communication is nonverbal as well, right? So if my nonverbal communication is that I’m suddenly closing up, or my face isn’t happy, then those are also signals that should be paid attention to.
So we want to give kids as many communication tools as possible, and then honor that, and teach other people in their lives to honor that.
I have something called “consent letters.” These consent letters, they’re a communication tool for the adults in my child’s life. So there’s a medical consent letter which explains that when they are in a doctor’s appointment, my child’s expectations are that they are asked for informed consent. So that means that the doctor needs to inform the child of what they need to do, why they need to do it, and how they need to do it, and then actually ask for the consent to do it. And then the child has to say yes or no.
So we went to this new doctor and we gave him the letter. It’s someone that my husband actually has known for all of his life. So we know that this is a good doctor, safe doctor, to my knowledge. So we gave him the letter, and he’s like, “This is really cool. I think this is really an awesome thing. And I’m actually glad that you gave it to me because I have a tendency of just wanting to tickle kids. It’s obviously a well intentioned thing, but I always kind of go in for this tickle.” And he’s like, “But you’re absolutely right. I shouldn’t just be doing that just because it’s my patient and it’s a cute little kid.”
So this really shifted the way that he’s now going to approach his patients that are little.
I mean, would you do that to an adult? We tend to think just because they’re little, we get to have these interactions. But if they were adults, we certainly would not go in and pinch someone’s cheeks, or pet them on the head, or go in for a tickle, right? So why are we okay with doing it to kids?
We can certainly always be playful and all of that, as long as we reinforce to our kids that when they say no or they verbalize a no, or have body language that says no, that we honor it, and keep confirming that so that that becomes their expectation.
Janet Lansbury: Also it helps the parent not to have to be so confrontational. It’s much better to give the doctor the advance notice that’s respectful. And it’s helpful to your child to know that it matters that much that you’re doing that when your child is old enough to know those things.
Rosalia Rivera: Right. And it helps them also when they’re older to know that they have rights over their physical health and how to interact with the practitioners in their lives, right? So anyone who has a uterus, when they get to that stage of reproductive health, that they feel empowered by those interactions as well.
Janet Lansbury: Right. And this again, begins with the infant. We’re changing their diaper, and it’s common to distract and say: Look over here and don’t pay any attention to what I’m doing. What is that teaching our child?
What you’re talking about with the doctor, it seems like there’s two issues that are getting in the way. One is that we’re not seeing the young child as a person. We’re seeing them as an object for us to do things to or whatever, which is understandable and, again, the way I used to probably think about children.
And then the other part is not really recognizing the power imbalance. You said something on your Instagram page that I love. Something to the effect of, “It’s not consent if your child is afraid to say no.” And that can happen even with Mom or Dad that are getting so excited about tickling you or roughhousing with you. Sometimes we can get, especially with the roughhousing, we can kind of lose control a little. Like we get so involved in it that we’re kind of out of ourselves.
We need to realize that our child is geared towards pleasing us. Our child is inclined to want to have fun when we’re having fun. So it’s not just that they’re afraid of us. It could be just that they so want to join with us there, that they’re not listening to their own discomfort. They’re just not able to separate it out that way and speak for themselves, especially if they’re an infant. So just keeping those two things in mind, I think is really important: the imbalance of power and that this is a thoughtful person who is very aware and impressionable.
Rosalia Rivera: Yeah. And I think one of the other aspects of that, too… I kind of mentioned this a little bit before, where you may get an adult like an aunt, for example, who goes in and wants a hug, and the child just wants to give a high five. And they may make a face of sadness because they didn’t get the hug. A lot of people don’t realize that it’s not ill intended in that way. But a lot of that can ultimately lead to a form of coercion, which trying to explain this without making people go, “What, what do you mean?” Emotional manipulation almost, but…
Janet Lansbury: Yeah. Like, “You’re going to make me sad.”
Rosalia Rivera: Exactly. I know that that’s not the intent of the aunt to manipulate the child, but a lot of times that’s just how we’ve grown up in this culture where if we’re not shown affection, then we have different ways of showing our disappointment for that. And I think with adults, they have so much power and influence over children. And children ultimately are so empathetic. They don’t want to make someone sad. Right?
And we have to remember as adults that it’s really our job to manage our own emotions and feelings about something. So if we’re disappointed with Johnny’s not giving us a hug, that’s something that we need to sort out on our own and manage ourselves. Because otherwise we’re sending this message that they owe other people affection. And we don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. I guess I have to give them a hug, right?
Janet Lansbury: It’s codependency is what it is, right? I’m responsible for everyone else’s emotions.
Rosalia Rivera: Exactly. And we need to be more aware of how that is internalized by kids. I always say this to parents too. We tend to be afraid of, “I don’t want to hurt my mom’s feelings if my child doesn’t want to hug them. And then they’re going to feel really sad or disappointed.” I always say, “When you have these conversations, remind them ‘my child loves you.’ And, ‘We’re giving them these options because just like you, they may have an off day and they don’t really feel like doing a hug right now or doing a kiss.’ For whatever reason, we should never have these forced expectations. And ultimately: ‘Do you really want my child hugging you when they don’t really want to hug somebody?’ That’s just really forced affection anyway.”
So it’s just little things like that, they make a big difference, and having those conversations with those adults. Because it’s not just our children’s responsibility to communicate these things. As parents, we are their first line of defense. So if we utilize our voice on their behalf and they see that, again, you’re helping to model what that sounds like when someone is establishing a boundary in a kind and gentle way. It doesn’t have to come off as defensive or my guard is up. For me, respecting boundaries is the way that we show love. So when we are doing that, we are being respectful. And that’s the culture that I’m trying to create is that consent culture of implementing and upholding those boundaries. And then respecting that of others.
When we’re teaching abuse prevention in the early stage, we are also creating consent culture for the future by teaching those children how to respect the rights of others as well, and not coerce another person into owing them affection either, right? So when we’re teaching that to the adults in our lives to not do that to our kids, those kids are now going to grow up to not do that to other people.
Janet Lansbury: Right. And that holds true with us as well. That’s why it’s so important for us to have boundaries with our children that we express respectfully. If we don’t want them to be all over us in that moment, that we’re able to get a little distance with love, that we do that, that we’re not victims to our own children. Because then we’re modeling that they don’t have to respect other people’s boundaries.
Rosalia Rivera: Exactly. People think that abuse prevention is this set of rules. You do this, this, this, and this. But it’s really a whole shift in thinking when we’re talking about creating consent culture. Because we currently live in a culture that is constantly crossing boundaries. Our lines are blurred. And there’s this sense of I don’t know what’s right and what’s appropriate. And there’s this whole sort of pushback even with the #MeToo movement of, “Now everybody’s so sensitive. And now I can’t even talk to women because I’m afraid of what they’re going to say.” And it’s because this hasn’t been part of our lexicon of thinking. A lot of this is very new, both to this generation and the prior generation.
We are talking about rights and liberation, and through that is how we protect kids. It’s not just about the set, this checklist of reading certain books and teaching about private parts. That’s all part of it. But the bigger picture is how we are teaching through that daily interaction with our children and how we empower them with their rights. And that’s a big parenting shift for most people.
Janet Lansbury: Absolutely.
Can you just talk a little about a couple of the details? When we should have our antenna up, what kind of behaviors from people we should take notice of?
Rosalia Rivera: Yeah. So essentially, what that’s called are grooming signs. I think that that’s a terrible term. When I first learned about it, it’s like, “What do you mean grooming? Like when you brush your hair?” It should be really called manipulation or luring, because predators have almost a set of strategies or tactics that they use in order to gain that child’s trust and develop a bond with them, a relationship. And this is something that isn’t just done to the child, but also to the family, to the parents of that child, to get them to also trust, right? To gain their trust.
What these signs are, these grooming signs, when you put them together and you start to see that there’s more than two or three combined from a certain person, that’s when your antenna should go up.
But I always recommend if your spider senses, if your intuition or your gut is telling you something’s off, then pay more attention, limit the amount of one-on-one interaction with that person and your child. There’s a reason that you are sensing that.
And the signs that you should be looking for are, typically: you will have a person who is requesting one-on-one time with your child. So they may offer it in ways like, “I can do some babysitting, or I can take them off your hands for a couple of hours.” That may be fine because it’s a grandparent or a family member. But if you start to notice that they’re requesting it more often than what has seemed normal in the past, that’s something that you should pay attention to.
If they are gifting your child with things that could be expensive or not expensive, but it’s not at an appropriate time, like a birthday or Christmas, or some other kind of special event, that’s another potential sign of grooming.
If they are asking your child to keep secrets, even if they are considered good secrets, that’s another possible sign. Because predators sort of test or vet their possible victims through innocent things like keeping a secret about something that seems benign. So if it’s: I gave this child candy, or I treated them to ice cream and I asked them not to say anything, I want to see if they are actually going to keep that secret. And then if they do, that’s something that I can use against them later to say, “Well, you kept that secret. And if your parents find out,” or whatever threat or bribe they use. So that’s sort of proof to them that the child is willing to keep a secret and they can continue to erode a boundary. So if the child does say, “So-and-so gave me this, but they said not to say anything.” That’s a potential red flag.
Again, this is in combination. So like you may say: Well, my mom gave him some ice cream and I’m pretty sure that that should be fine. It likely is if it’s that one thing. But if it’s in combination with a bunch of other things, then it’s something to pay attention to.
I’ve even had a parent who said, “My mom was doing all these grooming things, and I know she’s not an abuser, but she is a narcissist. And she was kind of using my child in a manipulative way because she was trying to access this other thing or this information about the family.” So it’s like, well, you can have grooming that happens for a specific reason. It doesn’t always have to be abuse. But these are still the typical signs that a predator will use.
So those are three.
Another one is if they’re trying to get more of that one-on-one time, but they’re asking the child to ask the parents.
And suddenly then the child is trying to not hang out with that person if they have abused them already. And suddenly when the child originally was always wanting to hang out with that person and now they’re suddenly not wanting to hang out with that person, that’s another definite red flag that you should be paying attention to. And particularly if that person keeps insisting on getting more one-on-one time with them.
Janet Lansbury: And then I’m sure there are ways that you can broach these subjects with your child in terms of finding out more, asking them the right questions and —
Rosalia Rivera: Yeah. With the child, if you can have the communication of letting them know that they can always come to you, that there’s nothing that they could ever do that would make them unlovable. I think this is one of the biggest ones that parents don’t realize is the thing that would prevent a child from actually reporting — that if they feel that they would be unloved because of what happened. And one of the best ways to preempt that, and I talk about this a lot when it comes to telling your child you did something bad or you did something good, and we do this with Christmas, right? You’re on the naughty list or you’re on the good list, right? Are you going to get coal or gifts? That whole concept gets really ingrained into kids’ minds. They think if they did something bad, that that makes them bad. And so if we reinforce to our children that they are always good, that there’s nothing that they can do that would make them unlovable, that your love is unconditional.
And for a lot of parents they’re like, “Well my kid knows that.” Well, do they know it because it’s in your mind and you’re expressing it through your actions, or do they know it because you have taken the time to reiterate this?
And this actually was something that I recently learned about with my youngest. They had drawn on the wall or something with crayons. And they could see that I wasn’t very happy about the fact that they did that. But I’ve learned at this point it’s removable. I don’t need to freak out or anything. So that had happened and we were, I think he was going to the bathroom and I have to go with him because it’s through this dark hallway, so I’m always having to walk with him there. And I don’t know why, I just looking at how adorable he is. And I said, “I love you so much.”
And he’s like, “You do?”
And I said, “Yeah, of course I do.”
He says, “Even though I drew on the wall with the crayons?”
I said, “Yeah, of course I love you even though you did that.”
And you could see the wheels turning in his head because he knew that I was not happy about it, right? But at the same time, I had not realized how he had internalized that maybe this somehow made him less lovable.
And he’s like, “I thought I was bad.”
And I said, “You’re not bad.” I said, “What you did was not good, but that doesn’t mean that you’re not good.” You know?
That’s a really big part of how kids will determine whether they tell us something based on what a predator would say to them. “Your parents aren’t going to love you.” Or, “After they know what you did, they’re going to be ashamed of you.” There are a lot of manipulative strategies that predators use.
We have to continuously reinforce this idea with our kids through not just our actions but through our words to let them know on a regular basis that no matter what anybody ever tells them, no matter what they do, that they are always unconditionally loved by us.
Janet Lansbury: Absolutely.
Rosalia Rivera: And the older they get, we may tend to think that they don’t need those reminders, but it’s actually when they need them even more. Because we aren’t as physically affectionate with our children as they get older. And they kind of have more of that independence, especially as they’re going into the teenage years. This is when they need to hear it. They need to be reassured a bit.
Janet Lansbury: And that they’re going to make mistakes and that we all do.
I always told my kids, “I’ve done worse than whatever you’re going to do. So you can always tell me, don’t worry. I’m not going to judge you. I’m not going to shame you,” in keeping those lines open. So important. Because, yeah, as kids get older, we expect more of them. It’s harder not to be judgmental, instead of just judging the behavior and helping them with the behavior.
Rosalia Rivera: Yeah. And when I think of what are the most important things that we should teach about abuse prevention, that’s one of the top three, I would say. Because that will always let them know that they have a safe place to land. And no matter what, we’ll always believe them. And no matter what, we’ll always love them. And there isn’t anything that they can do that would make them less lovable.
Unfortunately for a lot of survivors, that is one of the reasons why they never disclosed. So we know that based on that, it’s really important for kids to know that they’ll continue to be worthy of love regardless of what happens to them or how they may have been manipulated to believe that somehow they were complicit.
Janet Lansbury: Wow. Well this is heavy, heavy stuff. This is a really good note to end on. I hate to end because you’re such a wealth of information. I really meant it — I could talk with you for hours and hours, and maybe we will do another. I would like that — to explore some of these other topics that you specialize in. But in the meantime, thank you so much for your work. I love that it is passion driven. I’ve listened to your story about how you got into this. And it was fascinating, all the different careers that you had and different interests you had, and how you kept coming back to this important healing that you needed to do yourself. And now you’re offering it to others. So kudos to you and have a great rest of your day.
Rosalia Rivera: Thank you.
Janet Lansbury: Along with all of Rosalia’s other resources at Consent Parenting (HERE) that I’ve linked in the transcript of this podcast, she’s also reopening her membership group for adult child sexual abuse survivors. And I’ll have the link for that (HERE).
And both of my books are available on audio, please check them out. Elevating Child Care, A Guide To Respectful Parenting and No Bad Kids, Toddler Discipline Without Shame. You can even get them for free from Audible by following the link in the liner notes of this podcast, or you can go to the books section of my website and find them there. You can also get them in paperback at Amazon, and in ebook at Amazon, Barnes And Noble, and apple.com.
Thanks again for listening. We can do this.
This podcast was absolutely great. Thanks so much. I have question for Rosalia, on how to best address sexual exploration that may occur among peers (I have an almost 5 year old). Thanks again!
Hi Jules, A great book to get this conversation going is ‘I Said No! by Zack and Kimberly King’ which talks about peers as well as adults. It’s based on a real event that happened to Kimberly’s son, Zack, and how they handled it in a really positive way and how to know what is safe and not safe by using a ‘red flag’ system. Thanks for your question!
I am wondering if Rosalia or Janet can recommend any age-appropriate books on this topic. I have a 3 year old and so far haven’t found anything that I feel has the right balance of not feeling sinister but also really promoting assertiveness. It seems like the age-appropriate ideas to introduce to her are more about body autonomy and consent, rather than abuse or good touch/bad touch.
Hi Jesse, yes, the books for this age are focused on consent and body autonomy, strengthening a sense of self. I take a holistic approach to abuse prevention. We have to begin by empowering kids. Some great books for 3 to 5 year olds are: C is for Consent by Eleanor Morison, A Hug by Nicola Manton, No Trespassing- This is My Body by Pattie Fitzgerald’ and there are others! I offer a free PDF guide of abuse prevention books as well. Cheers!
Thank you for the recommendations! I will take a look at your guide as well.
Thank you so much for covering this topic on your podcast. So many great insights and tools on how to help be an example and advocate for my child as well as give my child tools to advocate for herself.
I have a question for Rosalie. I have a 3 year old. I’m wondering where I could find a copy of the doctor letter you mentioned in the podcast, about how to talk and complete the appointment with your child.
I too would be very grateful for a draft of the consent letter, that it to be handed to adults, in relation to our child’s consent and voice.
My girl is starting school soon, and the consent letter is just what we need, we practice some of the recommendations already, but many more have been listed in the article.
Thank you again for the advice you have provided.