One of the most common fears of parents is someone hurting our precious littles. It’s almost unfathomable to think about for even myself as a parent as I type these words. Yet ignoring hard issues doesn’t make them disappear. One of the greatest choices we can make as parents is to tackle tough subjects head on. Let’s be proactive rather than reactive!
Grooming behaviors are the most common tactics an abuser will use to get close to a child they intend to harm. It is important to realize that these behaviors are not typically sexual in nature and can occur both in person or online. Most often an abuser is someone that a child knows and trusts. The goal of grooming behaviors is to build an emotional connection with a child with the intent of sexual abuse or exploitation. They often occur in stages in order to increase trust and desensitize victims and their parents towards inappropriate behavior.
So, for example, an abuser may start off buying small treat or gifts for a child and make them feel special. Later on, they may begin asking for something in return- a hug for an ice cream cone. This will continue to escalate toward abuse. Another example may include ‘innocent’ touches in front of the child’s parents (hugs, hand on a shoulder, or even ‘accidentally rubbing against a child’) in order to teach the child that the parent ‘consents’ to physical contact between the child and the abuser. As the grooming escalates the abuser will begin to find ways to isolate the child emotionally and physically from parents, family and peers.
The most difficult and overwhelming aspect of this type of behavior is that often times these truly are innocent gestures of interaction between trustworthy adults and children which are vital for their emotional health and stability. This is why they are so effective for abusers to utilize and why you often hear parents lamenting after the fact that they should have seen the signs. Nevertheless, an adult taking interest in a child’s life and developing relationship with them does not automatically mean they are an abuser. Yet, many different efforts towards one child can signify cause for concern and a parent should always consider their own intuition and look deeper if something feels ‘off’ to them.
So what can you as a parent do to prevent your child becoming a victim?
- Educate your child on what appropriate touch and interaction with an adult should look like. Teach them about grooming behavior and what to look for. Do not shy away from open conversation with them.
- Get to know the adults that will be responsible for your child in any capacity. Do not be afraid to ask them questions. Find out what other adults may have access to your child if they are at a school or a daycare.
- Ask your child who they are interacting with. Let your child know that they can trust you and talk to you about any interaction that makes them uncomfortable.
- Show up unannounced to places where your child is in the presence of other adults. By showing that you are purposefully aware of your child and their surroundings you are making a statement that they are not an easy target for an abuser.
- Always trust your gut. This does not automatically mean you have to report someone that makes you feel uncomfortable, but it does mean you should explore the reasons you’re feeling uncertain. If after asking questions and getting more information you still feel uncertain, then find another environment or adult for your child to engage.