That means children are more likely to pay attention when you tell them never to be alone with an adult, or the difference between a good touch and a bad touch. Be present, be aware Parents often let their guard down and forget the basics, said Steiner. Be aware of where your children are and who they're with. Make sure they're never alone with adults in an isolated setting and show up for their activities when you can. That doesn't mean attend every single baseball practice, but be present enough to know what's going on and to ensure your child is never alone with an adult.
But just knowing what your children are doing and being involved in their lives, not only with general knowledge but with your physical presence, allows you to monitor the situation.
It also established you as a parent who's active in your child's life, which makes you an obstacle for someone trying to groom your child for abuse. Make sure the atmosphere is open and transparent in the literal sense -- no closed doors or private sessions, and parents should always be able to sit in on activities.
Learn to recognize risky behavior in adults Identifying risky behavior in adults with whom you leave your children helps prevent abuse, said Sharon Doty, a child abuse prevention expert and founder of the nonprofit organization Empowering Adults -- Protecting Children. If a predator has nurtured a relationship, you may be inclined to let him or her be alone with your child if the adult asks.
But just say no, Doty said. Be wary of people who give your children candy or food against your wishes or let your child do things you don't allow them to do. You have to be advocate for no secrets by teaching that it's never OK for someone to ask them to keep something from a parent," Doty said.
How are you supposed to know what's going on behind your back? Listen to them talk to other kids, listen to their car talk while you're driving.
Notice if the child has become wary of talking to you. Observe situational and behavioral changes. They may start dressing shabbily to make themselves less attractive or appealing to their abuser. Children also tend to withdraw or isolate themselves out of shame. Other warning signs could be new symptoms of depression and anxiety, poor performance in school or disinterest in activities they used to enjoy, Lombardo said.
Don't be dismissive if a child no longer wants to go to soccer practice or expresses a sudden dislike for a coach or teacher. Take it seriously and find out why. Teenagers might also act out with substance abuse as a means of coping, she said. Because abuse is so distressing and upsetting for kids, they don't know what to do with the stress, so they act out in other ways," she said. Other signs run the gamut from mood swings and changes in eating habits to more overt clues involving adult-like sexual behaviors.
Don't be afraid to talk to your child It's hard to ask your child about what's going on in his or her life, especially when abuse is suspected. The key is to do it in a nonconfrontational manner that doesn't convey anger, distress or concern; you're the adult and caregiver, after all, and you set the tone, Lombardo said. Don't have the discussion before school or at bedtime; pick a moment when you have time to talk freely, without time constraints.
Parents should test different conversation openers in advance to find one they're comfortable with, said Doty, the child abuse prevention expert.
Maybe something along the lines of, "Once upon a time, something happened to me and it took me a long time to tell someone, but I felt much better once I did," she suggested.
Or, "What's the best thing about coach so-and-so; what's the worst thing? Listen to your gut," she said.