Let’s Talk PANTS.

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This week for me has been one of deep reflection on matters sexual abuse of children. I have come across two disturbing cases of paedophilic behaviour on social media, something that raises a lot of questions especially because it’s posted online leaving the rest of us shocked, petrified and angered to say the least. 

However, we can always beat abusers at their game if we are knowledgeable about how we can teach children important messages , like their body belongs to them and they should tell an adult if they are upset or worried.

In my line of work as a child protection professional, I have realized that parents and caregivers rarely talk to their children about their bodies. Yet, children look up to us to learn and understand their world.

As Child protection practitioners we are constantly finding ways to educate children on how to stay safe. I believe in secure childhoods and thus the need for all of us to learn how to give sound and practical advice to children. As much as conversations like these are hard, the aim is not to upset or scare families and children alike, but rather to create awareness around us on how children can also be their own person in protecting their bodies.

One of the greatest resource in talking to your children about their bodies is TALK PANTS. This is a guide developed by NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children) . The guide they offer has been created with parents and caregivers in mind and it will help you to have that important conversation with your 4-11 year old child about their body.

From P through to S, each letter of PANTS provides a simple but valuable lesson that can help keep a child safe.

Privates are Private.

Your underwater covers up your private parts and no one should ask to see or touch them. Sometimes a doctor or nurse a member of family might have to, but they should always explain why and ask you if it’s OK first.

Always remember your body belongs to you.

No one should make you do thing that make you feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. If someone tries to touch you underneath your underwear, say NO- and tell someone you trust.

No means No.

No means no and you always have the right to say “no” even to a family member or someone you love. You are in control of your body and the most important thing is how you feel.

Talk about secrets that upset you.

There are good and bad secrets. Good secrets can be things like surprise parties or gifts for other people. But bad secrets make you feel sad, worried or frightened. You should always tell an adult bad secrets right away.

Speak up, someone can help.

Talk about things that make you worried or anxious or upset. If you ever feel sad or upset, talk to an adult you trust. It can be a family member or a teacher or a friend to your parent.

As mentioned earlier, this is just a guide to talking to your children about what is appropriate behaviour around their bodies. You know your child better than anyone else and you will know how much detail to go. Talking PANTS is not talking about sex. However, should it come up, it’s valuable to take time to take the opportunity to talk.

If your child says something that worries you, get some advice from professionals. Always react with love, support openness and reassurance.

*Images and content sourced from nspcc.org.uk/pants.

 

 

 

 

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The case of Missing children : How can we prevent it?

There are so far too many alerts on missing children in Kenya. And there is no bias to age because kids as young as 4 year old to children as old as 17 years go missing every other day.

Studies have shown that the most prevalent factors contributing to missing children are problems at home including conflicts with siblings and parents. At least 90% of missing children cases are as a result of runaways.

Other children run from home because they are “forced to”. This could result from their behavioural issues such as substance abuse which may lead to prolonged conflict with their parents or guardians.

Young girls for example have ran from home because of being subjected to violence or forced marriages or relationships. If a child is being exposed  to episodes of sexual exploitation, they  a are most likely  to run from home. Sexual exploitation thus  needs to be stemmed. It is no doubt that cases of FGM have led many girls to run for safety.

We must tackle the causes and consequences of missing children: Risks. What risks are these children facing in their everyday lives that they need to run away from?

Children who go missing are at an increased risk of sexual exploitation and abuse. Sometimes they are running towards harm even when they are running away from it. I believe that missing children are often a consequence, symptom or an indicator of a problem rather than a problem itself.

Children also go missing due to being groomed and trafficked for sexual exploitation. Vulnerable girls are particularly at a risk of being groomed by older males who seek to gain their trust before sexually abusing them.

We also need to acknowledge that children who repetitively go missing are visibly sending out a cry for help for an ongoing harm.

However, For younger children, most times than not, missing episodes are as a result of lack of clear communication and setting of boundaries between caregivers and children. Children are so innocent in the way they trust the world around them. Playgrounds are heaven to children, yet they offer a great risk of harm for predators.  Supervise your children playing. And have clear rules on how far they can go. 

When there is very little or no adult supervision, Children can also be abducted by strangers. I think that just as we teach children how to stop, look and listen before crossing the road, it is important to teach them ways to stay safe out there.  Children are vulnerable and trusting and it is our job to remind them of the basic safety rules.

The three main rules I think are important to communicate with children are:

1. Don’t walk away with anyone other than the person arranged to take care of you.

2. Avoid getting into a car with a stranger at all costs.

3. Remember adults do not need help from a child. Not to find anything, not even a cat. If an adult is asking you for help, that is a warning sign.

4. If somebody forcefully grabs you, scream as loudly as you can.

While we all want the best for children, we can never prevent every harm they are exposed to. Parents and caregivers can however do this one thing: Communicate. Have strong relationships with your children. Stay plugged in their lives. When a child’s relationship with their parents isn’t strong, communication breaks down leaving the child vulnerable to predators.

When relationships deteriorate with children, dangers really come into play.

Why we need to protect children from bullying.

Bullying no matter how subtle it may seem or look affects everyone- those who are bullied, those who watch others being bullied and those who bully. Bullying is linked to many negative effects including impacts on mental health, substance abuse and suicide.

Bullying behaviour is characteristic of these 4 elements:

  • Repetitive and persistent
  • Involves an imbalance of power
  • Causing feelings of distress, loneliness fear and a lack of confidence
  • Intentionally harmful

There is always a potential for bullying wherever groups of  children spend time together on a regular basis or live together such as schools or children homes.

Kids who are bullied experience negative social, emotional and physical effects.  They may experience feelings of loneliness, sadness, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, changes in sleep patterns, loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. Children may also show decreased performance in academic work, may want to skip or drop out of school. For some children these issues may persist into adulthood.

Studies have found that children who are bullied are more likely to develop psychiatric disorders as adults compared to kids who are not bullied. Any victim of bullying knows that the blade of the bully cuts deep and such pain can be carried for years afterwards even if that person is no longer in your life.

Kids who bully others are also likely to be affected by the same. They can begin to engage in risky behaviour such as:

  • Easily get into fights at school, vandalize property or drop out of school
  • Engage in early sexual activity
  • Have criminal convictions and may abuse drugs in adolescence and adulthood
  • Be abusive toward spouses, romantic partners, or children as adults

There are numerous media reports that often link suicide to bullying. Although kids who are bullied are at risk of suicide, bullying alone is not a cause. There are many issues that may contribute to suicide such as problems at home, depression and a history of trauma. Bullying however can add to the bulk of many issues facing young children and the youth.

Many children  who face bullying will more often than not feel very distressed and powerless to put a stop to bullying. Children will feel embarrassed or ashamed that they are being bullied and may worry about what happens if they tell anybody.

What to do if your child is being bullied;

1. Explain what bullying is and ask them if they are being bullied.  If you know that your child is being bullied make sure you check in with them as often as possible. Remind them you are there for them and they can talk to you anytime.

2. Make sure they know who to ask for help.

If your child is being bullied they might be scared to report it because they think they’ll make the bullying worse.  Let them know they can talk to you or someone they trust such as a teacher or a family member.

If they don’t want to talk to you, suggest a counsellor who can also listen to them

3. If your child is being bullied help them find things to do that make them feel good like sports or music. Give them opportunities to build up their confidence. Always remind them it’s not their fault and they are loved and valued.

4. Talk to your child’s school. Bring any evidence in the bullying such as text messages a record of incidents or screenshots of online bullying. Tell them what effect the bullying is having on your child and make it clear you won’t tolerate it.

Ask the teacher or organiser what action they will take to curb the behaviour.

What to do if your child has been bullying others.

Children may not always realise that what they are doing is bullying. If they are making hurtful comments or doing offensive things to others they may not understand how much that could hurt someone.

1. Calmly explain that what they are doing is wrong and unacceptable.

2. Help them understand how what they have done feels. Ask them how they think the other child felt.

3. Explain what action you will take next such as informing their school and what you expect them to do to stop the negative behaviour.

In conclusion, bullying and its persistent, underlying damage to the mental  health of both the perpetrators and victims makes a strong case for prevention. I  always argue that prevention is the best protection. Bullying is no longer the necessary evil on the playground, but it is a serious form of child abuse whose negative effects continue to ripple through the lives of those affected.

This is no longer a children’s issue, but rather a cultural and societal issue that has roots extending back to generations. Caregivers and parents must provide the necessary support to kids who bully and are bullied. 

 

 

Sexting. How safe are your children online?

 

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Sexting comprises of making and sharing sexual material using mobile phones or by  posting material online. The images can be those of yourself or someone else  naked or partially naked.

Understanding why teenagers engage in sexting is important if we are  going to address the issue. Sexting has become n increasing concern for parents of teenagers and preteens. Some of the reasons why teenagers send sexually explicit photos include the following:

  • As a romantic gesture
  • Peer pressure or cyber bullying
  • Because it feels liberating and/or grown up
  • Self-esteem issues
  • Sexual favours in return for other services
  • Rebelliousness, or the need to be allowed to make their own decisions

For young people, sexting is more often than not consensual and something fun to do. Teenagers might see sexting as part of building friendships and boosting their own self confidence, and exploring their bodies, identities and sexuality. They also worry that their pictures will be shared with other people including family and as such young people tend to reduce this risk by sharing images with people they trust and with whom they have or might have a romantic relationship with. However some teenagers do send sexual images to people they have hardly met.

As parents and caregivers, we must be willing to engage in open and honest conversations with teenagers about sexting and sending nudes. This way parents are able to understand what sexting means to teenagers. We talk to children about bullying and talking to strangers. But what about staying safe online? Having regular conversations about what your child is doing online is the best way to keep them safe.

As embarrassing as it may feel, talking to children about sexting can be part of talking about sexuality. Your children need to know that sending nudes has risks , like sharing images without consent. Telling your child not to send nudes isn’t the best way to protect them, instead have honest conversations about sexual risks, respectful relationships and trust.

You need to also encourage your child to think what could happen if she/ he fell out with someone who has their sexual images. For example that person might share the images, and once the images are on the internet they can be difficult to remove. Besides, let them know the legal side of sexting. For example sending nudes photos of others online is a criminal offence that could get them into a lot of trouble. For example, sexting involves minors and these nude photos are considered child pornography. Let them know that if a sexting photo arrives on their phone, they should never distribute it to anyone else( that could be considered distribution of child pornography). And there are legal consequences to this.

Let your child know that sexting is a sexual activity and they have a right to say no. Let them know it’s not OK for someone to pressure them into doing anything sexual.

Teenagers always imagine that they are invincible so even when they know sexting is wrong , they don’t think they will get caught. Help your children understand that if their sexting backfires and images get into the wrong hands they will be trolled and bullied, therefore creating a harsh world for themselves.

Remember sexting can compromise your child’s reputation.  Help them understand that once a photo goes viral there is no way of knowing how many people will save it or share it. The photo could re-surface years after it was taken and posted. More and more college reps and employers are now seeking information about candidates online.

As caregivers and parents, we must spend time to talk to teenagers about sex. Young people need to know it’s okay to have feelings and desires. Talk to them about the impact and consequences of acting on their desires.  Do not treat sex as a taboo topic in your household, rather create the safe environment for your teen to ask questions and have open dialogue. For example if your children have sent any nudes to anyone, first of all learn as much as possible about the situation. See if it was a teen “romance thing”, a form of harassment or bullying or it was just impulsive behaviour. Stay calm and be supportive as your children open up about why they are sexting.

To conclude, it is important that we educate young people on the dangers associated with sexting. There are many teens making good decisions when it comes to sexting. You will not stop your teens from sexting by adopting a stern attitude. They know they can outwit you especially if you aren’t tech-savvy. Prevention is the best form of protection. Sit down with your children in a nonconfrontational and nonthreatening environment and talk to them. Adopting respectful parenting techniques combined with education, your children are likely to make the right choices.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Child care tips for the school holidays.

Vacations for children are fun for them but almost a nightmare for parents.  But holidays can be a happy time for your kids and a stress free time if proper planning is done.

It is not surprising to find many single and working parents dread school vacations. This s because most parents have to be at work. If proper planning is done, one may be able to block out their own vacation time to coincide with that of their youngsters. This way one or both parents is able to actively stay home with their children. Where need be, parents can be able to sign up their children for  holiday activities such as camps, and club activities, vocational trainings or even cooking clubs.

Finding the right childminders is often a challenge especially here in Kenya where we have very little legislation that properly regulates the provision of child care services by individuals or organizations that are doing so. You will find that most children are simply left in the hands of nannies who in most cases are needed most for household chores rather than the direct supervision of children as they play or move about.

For child protection enthusiasts, We believe that school holidays do not have to be an enduring period where parents can’t wait to take their children back to school. As challenging as it maybe, there are lots of ways to make holidays a great time to bond with children and  to keep nurturing them to develop into happy, self-motivated young adults.

Here are some tips for parents to manage the school holidays.

1. Involve others.

Your friends, neighbors especially those with children could also be trying to find ways to entertain their children during school holidays. Try to find people with almost similar parenting styles. More often than not children have a way of being the ones who bring parents in a community together. Maximize on this, and use these connections as they are mutually beneficial.

2. Use local resources.

Community resources such as churches, libraries often have craft activity sessions and sometimes they are likely to be inexpensive. Try to find out more by looking at noticeboards of local community centres, churches, malls and ask other parents for ideas.

To encourage reading, visit a nearby library, read a book to your children or ask them to read for you. An hour or so is good enough, then follow this up with a meal or snack at a cafe. Your children will love you for this!

3. Look out for other activities.

Be on the lookout for activities such as camps is sports’ events that could be happening in your local community. Most churches in Kenya run some kind of holiday clubs most of which are open to the larger community. This is especially good for sporty children.

4. Use extended family.

Let your children spend sometime with cousins and grandparents. You may do this for a night or two depending on a child’s age and the distance involved.

However, it is good to be extra cautious when you leave your children in the hands of extended family. Unfortunately some children experience neglect, violence and abuse in the hands of caregivers who are family.  Studies have shown that sexual abuse isn’t normally committed by a stranger. Carefully consider this option, and be vigilant on who is around your children. Always teach your children to report any suspicious behaviour to you or an adult they can trust.

5.  Always plan ahead.

As mentioned earlier, try taking your own vacation same time as your children. They need you the most.

If planning to enroll them in clubs or activities do it well in advance and explain it to your children. Do not sign them up for activities the whole time. Space out the activities so they do not feel like they are being rushed from one thing to another.

Make sure you have plenty of indoor activities in hand especially for rainy days or days you need to work for a few hours. The internet is full of fun activities to do with children at home.

6. Plan a Treat for the end.

Call it the grand finale of the holidays! Plan to take your children to a special place or do something they have wanted to do for a while.

Fir starters, This can act as a milestone that the holidays are over and everyone will be going back to school or work.

Secondly it acts as a good reward for good behaviour during the holidays. This will give everyone including you something to look forward to.

Last but not least, boredom has never killed anyone. You really do not need to entertain your children all the time. Boredom is good because it encourages self-reliance and allows children to learn to be creative on their own. Embrace this concept because it will save you some sanity.

Hope you enjoyed the read. Happy holidays everyone!

 

 

 

 

The first 1000 days: We either get it or we don’t

For any child, the first 1000 days i.e. from conception to the age of three- is a critical opportunity to the precedence of a child’s development. Science is clear that during this period a child makes its first neural connections with the world. As such, stimulation of the brain from the earliest possible moment is important. Children who are sang to, read to and played with will no doubt have better cognitive development and a better chance at a more fuller and productive life.

 Nutrition also plays a significant role in the development of a child’s brain. A child’s brain consumes between 50-75% of all energy absorbed from food and good nutrition. Children who do not receive the nutrition they need suffer the risk of stunted cognitive and physical development. Yet, around the world, at least 150 million children continue to suffer from stunted growth while millions are lacking the daily nutrients to survive.

 Violence, abuse, neglect and traumatic experiences have been shown to produce cortisol-a hormone that triggers flight-or fight response to danger. High levels of cortisol thus produce stress which then limits brain connectivity in children. Protection of children from any form of abuse, violence and neglect whether at home or in the community is therefore an important part of the first 1000 days

 Environmental pollution can also limit the development of a child’s brain leading to the loss and damage of neural tissue. Globally, it is estimated that around 30 million children live in areas where the air is toxic.  Moreover, millions of children under five continue to live in areas of great deprivation.

 As a global community, when we deprive children of this once in a life time opportunity, all we are doing is further strengthening of the cycle of inequality and disadvantage to future gens. This in turn results to poor outcomes such as high unemployment rates, low wages, intergenerational poverty, increased reliance on social support ultimately weighing down the social and economic progress of nations.

  As governments, stakeholders, international organizations, private sector and civil society, we must work towards  investing in programmes that target the first 1000 days of a child that will focus on protection from abuse, proper nutrition, stimulation and learning. Children are the building blocks of our nations, they are tomorrow’s leaders and innovators; and we must provide an environment that will promote their survival and boost their productivity.

What is Child development

Information here provides parents and guardians with the knowledge and guidelines and tools to provide support, guidance and learning experiences for their child to grow and develop according to his/ her unique abilities.

 As children develop from infants to teens and finally to adults, they go through a series of developmental stages that are quite important to the person they become i.e. socially, intellectually, physically and emotionally. Your role as a parent is to provide encouragement, support and access to activities that enable the child to master developmental tasks. As a parent you are your child’s first teacher, and you should remain their best teacher throughout life.

 Child development is a process that every child goes through. This process involves learning and mastering skills such as sitting, walking, talking and playing. These skills are what we would call developmental milestones. Child development specialists have learned that from birth, children are goal directed to experiment and learn from experience. As a parent, you need to expose your child to age appropriate challenges to encourage development as well as experiences that will allow your child to learn from interacting with the environment. A parent needs to provide the necessary support for a child to allow them to safely and productively learn from the environment.

 Children develop skills in five main areas of development:

 Cognitive development

This includes the child’s ability to learn and solve problems. For example this includes a two-month old baby learning to explore the environment with eyes or a six year old learning how to solve math problems.

 Social and emotional development

 This involves a child learning how to interact with others. For example a five year old knowing how to take turns when playing, a six week old baby smiling back at you or a ten month baby waving goodbye.

Speech and language development

This is the ability of the child to both understand and use language.  For example this may include a one year old learning to say his first words or a five year old learning to say “feet” instead of “foots”.

 Fine motor skill development

This is the ability of the child to use small muscles to pick objects, hold a cup or use crayons to draw.

Gross motor skill development

 This is the ability of the child to use larger muscles. For example a six month old baby who is learning to sit up with some support or a five year old who is learning to play football.

 What is a development milestone?

A development milestone is a skill that a child acquires within a specific time frame. Learning to walk for example is a developmental milestone. Most milestones develop in a sequential way. A child will need to develop some skills before developing new skills. A child will first learn to crawl before they can walk.

 As parents and caregivers we all want our children to succeed and be the best they can be. From research we know that how your child succeeds is influenced by two factors: environment and genes.

 Genes are the genetic material we pass onto our children. The other factor that influences child development is the environment. This includes the experiences of children in the homes, schools and community environments. The environment can either harm or improve a child’s genetic blue print. For example malnourished children who live in third world countries may not reach their IQ potential because of the impact of the environment on their brain.

 Some of the ways in which we can encourage brain development in children are:

  • Interact with your child by talking, playing, singing, reading and eating together. Your child will grow up feeling special to you

  • Learn simple parenting skills for helping your child to learn how to be around others. The most important parenting skills are having consistent rules, and rewarding behaviors you want to your child do more of, and have consequences for bad behavior.

  • Ask for help when and where you need it from other parents, your spouse, family, friends or even your child’s doctor.

  • Give your child lot of attention and love. No matter the age of a child, holding, hugging and listening are important ways to show your child they matter.

  • Limit TV time and video time to no more than 1-2 hours of educational viewing per day

  • Lastly read, read and read some more. Studies show that children who are read to by their parents have a larger vocabulary than other children.

However, when in doubt or have questions, do not hesitate to talk to a professional like your child’s doctor, a nurse, or a trained child development specialist. There is always someone in your community you can talk to.