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!

 

 

 

 

What to do when worried about abuse of a child?

As parents and caregivers, we will often come across children who show signs of either abuse and/or neglect. Remember, you can always do something. In todays article I share on some 5 steps that you can take should you ever find yourself worried about the safety of a child.

 1. Take your gut feeling seriously.

 If you are worried about a child, it is very important that you do something about it. Quite often we think that somebody else will notice the same thing we did, but this is not always the case. It is better that several people are concerned about a child, than not having anybody concerned at all.

Think about the  traffic sign rule.

 At the red light, we have children who need immediate help either from either the children’s department service in your county or any helping agencies that you may know of. If you are quite concerned about the situation in which the child finds himself/ herself, it is important that you take immediate action with the relevant agencies.

 At the yellow light, we have children whom you are unsure of how they are doing and children you have a gut feeling about. You must take your gut feeling seriously and try to do something.

 At the green light, we have children who are doing very well, and there are no concerns.

 2. Affirm the child that you see them, with words and affection.

 To be seen and affirmed by adults, means a lot for all children, especially for children who receive little attention at home. Whether you are well acquinted  with the child or not, warm words and kind affection will mean the world to children

 (Tips on how you can affirm a child with words).

  •  Say Hi, ask the child what their name is, ask open and interesting questions about everyday things.
  • Say something nice about the child’s behaviour, hairstyle, or anything else that feels natural.
  • Use the name of the child.
  • Be interested about what the child is telling you.
  • Show that you are happy to see the child again the next time you meet them.
  • Follow up what you talked about the last time, showing that you care about the child and the   conversation.
  • Share something about yourself that will help the child to know you better.

3.Affirm the child that you see them, with actions.

Decide on what you can invite the child to. Being part of something fun and nice can mean so much for children who are facing difficulties at home. Choose situations that are natural to you and your family but do not overdo it( NB: Important to explain to your own children why you are inviting another child to your space, and explain to them why it is important to include the new child)

 (Tips on 6 concrete things you can do for a child).

  •  Invite the child to ride home with you after school, or a sports event.
  • Invite the child to family activities such as movies, or weekend outings
  • Ask if the  child is participating in any neighborhood activities, if not invite them if they want to.
  • Ask if you can help with homework, making dinner or something else they can do after school.
  • Find an activity you like and invite several children, or find a project where you can invite several   people in your neighborhood.

4. If your gut feeling that something is wrong, is getting stronger, seek help.

Be a good listener. If your gut feeling keeps getting stronger as you get to interact the child, you should let the child know that it is safe for them to share with you what they are going through.

 (Tips on what you can say to a child to help them open up to you).

  • You do not look happy, is  there anything making you sad?
  • Is everything at home okay? You haven’t told me much about your parents
  • You have been tired of late, is there something bothering you?
  • I want you to know that you can tell me anything. I can handle what you will tell me eve when you think it is difficult.
  • I want you to know that i care about you. I hope you know that i am here for you if you need anyone to talk to.

Remember, should the child open up to you, it is important that you listen to them without judging.  Children often feel ashamed over their situation. They maybe worried that their parents will get into trouble, or they will be taken away from their parents. Do not say anything painful about their parents regardless of what the child shares with you. Show respect. Listen empathetically.

(Tips on what you can say to a child who shares about a difficult situation at home)

  • I understand that this is difficult for you..
  • I am glad that you shared this with me, you have me to share the burden with..
  • You are a wonderful girl/ boy and none of this is your fault..
  • I am sure your parents would wish to have done things differently, sometimes it is not easy to be an adult..
  • Do you want your mom/ dad to get help?..
  • What kind of help are you seeking?..
  • Is it okay for me to talk to someone else about this?..

 If you are unsure of what is the right thing to do, and need help to analyze the situation, it is wise to:

  • Talk to someone you trust, a neighbor, or another parent .
  • Talk to the school teachers, children’s department or other persons who know the child well enough.

 5. Know that you are making a difference. Know that, remember that, and do it!

The best feeling anyone can experience, is that a child you are concerned about is doing okay! Most children, fortunately  come from good homes, and perhaps this is also true for the child you were concerned about. It’s a good discovery! Finding out that there was nothing to be concerned about is gratifying – and your main task as an adult is not to be right, but to investigate further when you feel concerned about children.

Why Child Protection

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The convention on the rights of the child (1989) outlines the fundamental rights of children, including the right to be protected from economic exploitation and harmful work, from all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse, and from physical or mental violence, as well as ensuring that children will not be separated from their family against their will. These rights are further refined by two Optional Protocols, one on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and the other on the involvement of children in armed conflict.

 A family is the first space for protection of children. Parents and caregivers need to build and create a a protective and loving home environment for children. The community is also responsible for building a safe and child friendly environment outside of the home. Children need protection so they can fully grow and develop to their fullest potential.

 The term Child protection refers to preventing and responding to violence, exploitation and abuse against children. This includes trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation, child labour, harmful cultural practices such as early marriages and female genital mutilation. Child protection programmes aim at helping children who are vulnerable to these abuses especially where there is lack of parental care, during armed conflict and when children are in conflict with the law. Children need to be protected so that they can survive, grow, learn and develop to their fullest potential.

 Violations of children rights are evident in many countries and these cases are many, often under-recognized and under-reported. Needless to say these instances are a barrier to a child’s survival and development. Children subjected to exploitation, abuse, negligence and violence are at a risk for death, HIV/AIDS infection, Poor physical and mental health, displacement, educational problems, vagrancy and poor parenting and coping skills later in life.

 Building a protective environment for children that prevents and responds to violence, exploitation and abuse involves these components: Promoting, establishing and  enforcing of legislation; strengthening government commitment and capacity to protect children; open discussion of child protection issues that includes civil society and media; addressing harmful customs, practices and attitudes; building capacity for families and communities; provision of adequate and essential services for prevention, recovery and reintegration including basic education, health and protection ; developing children’s life skills, own participation and knowledge.; and establishing and implementing on-going and effective monitoring, reporting and oversight.

 Millions of children are facing violence, abuse, negligence and discrimination every day. These violations limit their chances of survival and the opportunity to follow and pursue their dreams. All children should be encouraged to speak up for the rights of children and to also take an active role in their own protection against abuse, exploitation, violence and discrimination.

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