10 Ways to Be an Abuse Savvy Mom

by | Oct 1, 2019 | Abuse | 39 comments

10 Ways to Protect Your Children from Sexual Abuse

As parents we want to do everything we can to protect our kids from sexual abuse.

And even though we can never completely eliminate the risk, we can make it more likely that they will tell us if something is up. We can make it more likely that we will notice. And we can fight for them.

I asked Joanna, who works for me, to write this one, since she’s in the middle of it with toddler. Here’s Joanna!

And thank you to Tyndale for sending us How Much Is a Little Girl Worth?

My daughter is 19 months old and she is so precious to me.

I love her with a fierce, mommy love – I would move mountains for her. Moms are like that. We desperately want our littles to grow up happy, healthy, and whole.

I want her to know how loved, precious, and valuable she is, not because of what she does, but because of who she is. I was thrilled when I discovered Rachael Denhollander’s new book “How Much is a Little Girl Worth?” It’s a beautifully illustrated picture book that features little girls and their moms of all races and ethnic groups and it tells little girls what they are worth and what the grownups who love them are willing to do for them. It put words to the cry of my heart, since making the world a better place for my daughter is one of my main motivators in my work writing and researching.

I read the book to my daughter, and she immediately asked me to read it again. I did. She wanted it again. I did. She wanted it again, but hurried back to her bedroom and brought back her favorite lovie, a lion named Lyle, so he could hear the story. She wanted it again, and hurried back to her room to get her 2nd favorite lovie, Benny the lion. The next reading she headed back again for her 3rd favorite, Emily the bear.

We read the story 7 times in short succession and every time I’ve read it to her since, she’s asked for a repeat reading. My daughter is a true bookworm and LOVES learning new books we’ve gotten her, but I think this one was particularly sweet for her because hearing words of truth and love that are designed to fill her up and give her confidence and courage are powerful, even at a young age. It has been my privilege to speak words of blessing over my daughter and Rachael’s book is now a go-to gift for me. My mom is a pastor and she’s planning on getting a copy for the church where she pastors, so that they can use it with their diverse congregation in soul care, since they do a lot of work about knowing your value in Christ.

As I’m rooting my parenting in teaching my daughter her worth and value, I also want to share some of the best tips I’ve found for protecting kids from abuse.

1. Teach your kids the correct names for their anatomy

Studies show that if kids know the correct names for their anatomy, they are less likely to be abused. Experts believe this may be because potential abusers are put off by a child who can tell them plainly what they don’t want. Additionally, if a child is abused, being able to accurately say what is happening allows children to communicate with law enforcement, if the worst happens.

2. Teach your children that they do not ever HAVE to keep a secret from you

We can have surprises, like birthday parties and presents, but children need to understand that they do not need to keep secrets from their parents. Abusers often pressure children to keep things secret and intimidate them by saying that their families will be hurt if the kids don’t comply. Make sure your kids know that this is NEVER going to be true for them.

This includes letting your kids know that they can tell you if they ever feel very confused about something. When children see pornography for the first time, for instance, it often scares them and makes them feel ashamed, and so they don’t want to tell. Having that conversation about “Bad Pictures, Good Pictures” beforehand can help them be able to articulate if something bad happened, and can let them know that you’re not angry at them. And, if anyone ever tries to show them pictures they shouldn’t (showing kids porn is a common part of grooming), then they’ll be more likely to tell you.

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3. Teach your children that they have autonomy over their bodies

Allow your children to decide when the want to touch someone. Never force them into hugging or kissing relatives, so that they can feel they have control over who touches them. Help them to understand age-appropriate boundaries for themselves, including when it is important to keep clothing on.

4. Be aware of your surroundings

If there is pornography lying around, if there is a sense of danger, or if something gets your spidey sense up, listen to your gut. If you’re concerned, act on that. Also, if your child, or another child you know, starts displaying warning signs themselves that point towards abuse, be sure to get help from a psychologist, physician, or other professional who is trained in dealing with child abuse.

5. Be aware of where your children are at large family gatherings

Most abusers are people close to the child involved, family members, boyfriends, older cousins, or friends. If you’re at a large family gathering, keep an eye on your kids. Many grandfathers who abuse their grandchildren did not abuse their own children. I don’t say this to scare you – but be aware of the risks and be cognizant of potential red flags with male relatives. If you’re at a large family reunion with people who you don’t know well or do not trust 100%, try to keep your child within your view or know where they are and who is with them so that you can ensure their safety. You can’t trust someone just because they are family – people have to earn your trust. Also, family members, even very well-meaning, good people, can err on the side of protecting a perpetrator, instead of ensuring that all family members have the information they need to make an informed, wise decision.

6. Be aware of what you post on social media

A few months ago, Pink caused a stir by posting a photo of her naked child online on social media. She received a great deal of backlash and then lashed out herself, describing how horrible it was that people were sexualizing her child. She’s correct, no one should sexualize small children. But we live in a broken, horrible world and there are people who do. Keep naked bathtime pictures off of the internet to protect your children’s images from being made into child porn. That’s graphic but it’s a real risk of today’s world. If you want to share an adorable photo of your little one, use texting or email.

7. Be aware of who you are allowing to babysit your children

Don’t assume that because someone is a 14 year old girl, they are necessarily safe. One really  great way to be sure your kids are safe is to ask them whether they liked their babysitter. If not, find a new one.

8. Be physically affectionate with your children

The love of a small child is one of life’s sweetest pleasures. Enjoy your children and be affectionate with them. Snuggle up and read stories, put them on your lap and sing songs, and enjoy the special closeness that you share as parent and child. Your child will learn what appropriate touching is as you model it for them. And seriously, what is better than snuggling with a toddler?

9. Be willing to trust people

Because I am vigilant about abuse (with good reason, having known abuse victims) it can be difficult for me to trust people. I am terrified of what someone could do to my precious girl. But here’s the thing: I get to choose who I trust. If someone makes my mommy spidey sense go off, I can choose not to trust them. But there are lots of wonderful people in my daughter’s life who will serve as fantastic role models for her and who will offer her a listening ear and safe place as she grows.

10. Be a good listener

One of the best things you can do for your child is to be a safe person for them to talk to. My mom drove us home from school every day when I was in elementary school and my little brother would spend 15 minutes telling her the play-by-play of the day’s kickball game. I thought it was SO boring and I was amazed that my mom listened and asked so many clarifying questions. Years later I realized that she was cared and listened intently because she loved my brother, not because she was riveted by the kickball game. By talking to our kids about little stuff, entering into their interests, and being a part of their lives, we increase the likelihood that they’ll come to us if something really big happens. Kickball matters.

There you have it! My best tips for being an abuse-savvy mom. What do you think? Do you have any ideas for parents that I didn’t cover here? Let me know in the comments!

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Becky

    Great list, Joanna! I’ve already been doing several things on the list with my boys, especially not forcing them to give hugs and kisses at family gatherings, and also trying to teach them both that when the other brother asks for something physical to stop, that request needs to be respected. Granted, with them, it’s usually a toddler wrestling type thing, but I want them to know that no means no before they’re teenagers and beyond. And now that I have a girl too, I’ll have to get my hands on that book! It looks like just the sort of “girl power” message that I would want her to have.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      It really is a lovely book. 🙂

  2. Lindsey

    I am hypervigilent when it comes to sexual abuse and my kids – and it’s exhausting. But I will do everything in my power to prevent abuse, including having open discussions with my kids starting at a young age that if anyone ever touches their privates, etc., to come and tell us right away. That even if someone threatens to hurt us, it’s a lie, and they should not have any secrets from mom.

    Then, periodically I will ask them (especially after camp, or leaving them with a relative to watch), if they had a good time, if anything happened to make them upset, if anyone touched them inappropriately.

    I wish so badly that we lived in a world where I would never have to talk to my kids like this. I wish that when my four year old seems a little preoccupied with private parts I didn’t have to worry that they’d been molested, but could accept what I read – that it’s pretty age appropriate. I wish there were no children being abused, and that I could actually trust more than a handful of people to be around my kids when I am not.

    But, we live in a fallen world, and until then I remain ever hyper vigilant, and I have to pray to God to fill in all the areas that I cannot control.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      It’s so hard, isn’t it, Lindsey? But your last sentence is very apt.

  3. Jane Eyre

    Such a good list. One thing I will add is that if you hear of something problematic, do not assume that it is the only problem, and do not assume that it ends when you address the problem.

    If you hear of, eg, an older cousin hitting your child, you need to ask about previous interactions. You need to ask about other family members – are they also abusers or being abused? If you put your child in continued contact with the person, you need to affirmatively check in on a regular basis to ensure that it has ended.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Very true! If a teen/child is abusive themselves, then I would worry about the parents, too. I would not want to leave my child with the parents until we got to the bottom of the situation.

  4. G

    I would add to understand how abuse happens. Jimmy Hinton has great resources for understanding how abusers work so that we can be diligent in protecting children. (He is a pastor who turned his father in to the police for abusing children.) There are many misconceptions out there about what will keep children safe- do your homework to know the truth.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, I just commented on one of Jimmy’s posts this morning! I remember him sharing something a while back about how good abusers are at abusing even when there are parents in the room. They groom parents to not notice. So scary!

      • Lindsey

        When I read that article on his blog I felt like I was going to throw up. It made me feel like I couldn’t prevent abuse at all of it could happen with me in the room. Really a dark place, but I’d rather know than not know.

  5. Nathan

    From number 5…
    > > Also, family members, even very well-meaning, good people, can err on
    > > the side of protecting a perpetrator

    I’ve heard that this is NOT uncommon. Family members will often close ranks around “Good old Uncle Charlie”, mainly to protect the overall family image and simply don’t want to face what may have happened.

    • L

      My child gravitates towards screens and I’ve urged her not look at screens other kids have. Or atleast place some clear guidelines regarding this.

      We were visiting family in another town and were at the park when an older child wanted to show their game to my daughter. I believe it was genuinely a game but I’m not ok with another person showing their phone or whatever technology they have along to my daughter without it being approved by a trustworthy person. I know of instances where this has been the avenue to introduce porn since alot of kids have their own devices they carry with them anywhere.

      I don’t want my child to be suspicious or fearful of peers but that is one thing I’d incorporate to the list. As mentioned it’s a broken world and sadly we have to place rules and guidelines that are not fun to do.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Yes, that’s a good one. Screens definitely are one of the entry points for grooming and abuse. And let’s not discount the effects on a child’s sexuality by being exposed to porn at 8 or 9, even by a friend who didn’t mean harm. Those images can stick with them.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yep. It’s really sad.

    • Jane Eyre

      It happened in my family. Abuse was physical, not sexual, but there has been a massive, decades long effort to minimise what happened.

      It also happened at a workplace.

      Basically, people want to “make it okay,” and the path of least resistance is to put the abuser’s actions on the level of much more minor problems. Then the victim’s ruffled feathers can be smoothed over and the perp knows to stop.

      But actual abuse doesn’t end with a talking-to; it’s a severe problem. The best thing for the victim is to be kept away from the perp.

    • bethany

      Yep! That’s what my parents chose to do for our family in-house abuser’s. They never even considered involving the police. We just stopped seeing that relative very often. I have zero Trust in their judgement. Because of my experience, of being passive-agressively ignored.

  6. EM

    I would also avoid sleepovers. My kids only sleep over with their cousins and grandparents, and 1 or 2 other families that we’ve known our whole lives. Aside from abuse, kids tell each other inappropriate things and who knows what they may watch on TV. I’ve been really, truly shocked at what seemingly nice families let their kids watch.

    Also, be very wary of people who seem too interested in hanging out with your kids. I’m all for involving kids in conversation, but my spidey senses go up when an unrelated adult seems more interested in talking to my kids than to me. Or if they are constantly offering gifts. Even if they really are just being nice, my kids won’t be alone with someone like that.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Great points!

  7. EM

    One more thing, if your kid tells you something happened to them, BELIEVE IT! Innocent children don’t know to make this stuff up. My best friend growing up told her parents that her grandfather abused her when it happened (she was pretty little), and they didn’t believe her. Finally when we were in high school, grandpa was accused of abuse by a neighbor and finally they realized she was telling the truth – I believe others in the family had been abused too. It was awful what she went through, and so much abuse could have been prevented if they had believed her in the first place.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire


  8. Anne

    I don’t know if book recommendations are allowed here, but Gavin de Becker’s book Protecting the Gift is an excellent resource on this issue (also keeping children safe in general). It expounds on many of the points given here.

  9. Phil

    I think we as parents need to in general not be naive. Because of my background and how I grew up I can spot a scam or as Joanna said my spidey senses go up real quick when garbage is present. My wife on the other hand does not think that way. She refers to herself as naive when I bring up things like: “You may want to watch out for X.” So educating yourself on what types of bad things happen and how are they manifested is all to important. This article is a great start….but as parents we really need to know more than this. Dont be naive!

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      Great point. I think that a great way to combat naivete is to listen to abuse victims’ wisdom and ask them what THEY look out for. Psychological studies have shown that people who have been abused do seem to have a “spidey sense” in a way about dangerous people because they, unfortunately, had to learn from a young age who was dangerous and who was not.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        I’m still amazed at the times I overruled my own spidey sense when I was younger. Thankfully nothing bad happened, but I really didn’t trust myself.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Hey, Phil, this was your 500th comment! 🙂 Yay! Thanks for all you invest in this community!

      • Phil

        Oh my gosh lol. Wow. Yikes. 500 eh? Thanks – and thanks Becca – yes good comment/insight I agree

  10. Nathan

    This can even extend into older children and into adulthood. Things that we can teach our daughters (and sons, too, it happens to them as well)

    1. Never go a party alone. Go with at least one friend and check up on each other now and then.

    2. Never accept a drink from a third party person.

    3. Never go off alone with a strange person that you don’t know.

    4. If you go to a party, find somebody who isn’t going and tell them where you’re going and when you expect to be back.

    5. If you get attacked or assaulted, report it IMMEDIATELY. Tell your parents (especially if you’re underage, but even if you’re over 18), see a doctor immediately to get a medical report, and call the police immediately so that they can gather evidence and interview witnesses before they start to forget things.

    6. If you’re going on a blind date, meet in a public place in daylight the first few times (also use rule 4 for blind dates)

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      For a blind date, too, a really great tip that one of my friends told me is DON’T MEET NEAR YOUR HOUSE. Often we set up these things at the starbucks around the corner, or the cafe down the street, because it’s convenient. But if the person ends up being dangerous/doesn’t understand boundaries, that makes it really easy for them to track you down and just wait for you to walk by and then follow you to your apartment. So until you really know the person, meet somewhere more than a 20 minute walk from your home. 🙂

  11. Arwen

    Wonderful tips, and great recommendation on the book, will buy it alongside with the other books that are recommended here.

    I have a question on #3. I come from a culture where people are very communal and affectionate. We aren’t as hyper individualistic as Americans are. People reach out and give out hugs & kisses before you can skip a beat. As a result telling my future kids not to give hugs or kisses (because we all greet each other with a kiss, as a cultural practice), will make me seem like the bitter witch of the community who’s going around assuming innocent people are about to molest her child. I know you should do whatever is in your power to protect your children, but at the same time i don’t want people to shun me either at parties, gatherings, weddings, etc. or worse them assuming i might be the one with the problem.

    I can see this working with Western families because people here are hyper individualistic here but in my community, oh gosh, i can see it going left real quick. So my question is where is the balance?

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      I honestly think it’s about just watching your kid’s reactions and then not pushing them if they’re actively uncomfortable. I don’t think it’s necessary to ask “Are you comfortable giving this person a hug?” before every encounter. 🙂 But I have seen MULTIPLE times where the child is actively cowering and shaking their head “no” while hiding behind mom or dad’s leg and the child is picked up and physically pushed towards the relative they are scared to hug. I personally think that is inappropriate, and it would be relatively easy to say “He/she needs some time to get to know you first, but we can do lots of things to say hello, like a handshake instead or waving and introducing ourselves. Would you like to try that instead?”

      I think these things are often easily handled if we don’t actually use the buzzwords like “oh well we don’t want him to be forced to hug someone because we want to teach him bodily autonomy so that he knows he can say no to adults who want to touch him in case someone tries to molest him.” I can see how that would be incredibly offensive to someone who doesn’t share the same understanding about sexual grooming. 🙂 But just playing it off as kids being kids and then giving other options instead may be a good middle ground?

      • Arwen

        Thank you Rebecca. Now it makes sense and i can most defiantly do that. Also thank you Natalie. I enjoy all the wisdom and tips people offer here.it’s wonderful!

    • Natalie

      Arwen, I think that’s a great opportunity to teach your child about proper ways to touch/greet others within your culture. For example, though I’m American, I have lots of French friends & have spent a lot of time there/fluent in French/etc. There’s a HUGE different between saying hello to someone and greeting them with the customary kiss on each cheek compared to full-on making out. When I was a teen & visiting France for the first time (& only half fluent at that point too), I went to a house party with my French girl friends. Their classmates were there, & one of the guys (knowing I was American & thinking I was “easy” as the stereotype of American-girls-in-Europe goes) went in for the customary kiss but then tried to full-on make out with me while grabbing my butt & arm. (Pretty sure he was drunk or at least somewhat intoxicated at the time. Still no excuse). Obviously, I knew enough about French culture to know that wasn’t appropriate, & all my girl friends immediately reprimanded him & pushed him away & didn’t let him near me the whole rest of the night. If I were living in France today with my children, I’d teach them that kissing the cheeks is how we greet one another but other forms of touching (which I’d explicitly lay out for them: groin touching, butt touching, chest/breast touching, unwanted fondling of any part of the body in general, etc) are not okay and should not be tolerated unless you want them to be doing that to you. I’d also tell them to use their intuition & if something doesn’t feel right, to speak up. Validating that they have a voice and should use it I think does more than a lot of other strategies because it empowered them.

  12. Nicole

    As a victim myself of child sexual abuse, I displayed a lot of odd behaviors as a child. I would stay the weekend with my grandparents and when it was time to go home, I would pack and unpack my suitcase.

    I was also very shy around men because I thought all men were like my abuser, so I only felt comfortable being around women.

    The biggest thing that bothers me looking back is that I repeatedly begged my adoptive mom (at the time) not to be left alone with my abuser which she completely disregarded.

    If your child is telling you they don’t want to be around someone, LISTEN TO THEM for goodness sake!

    • Arwen

      I send my deepest condolence Nicole. I agree with you parents need to listen to their children as tip #10 above suggested. When a child says no, it means no. So many repeated abuses could have been prevented if parents simply listened to their children. I hate utterly hate the abuse of children and it really hurts me when i read of so many who have gone through it. I’m just so sorry.

  13. Anon

    LISTEN to what children say. And if they mention something concerning, make sure you respond calmly and reassuringly (however upset you are inside) as if you are having a totally normal conversation. And if someone in your family or social circle has abused in the past, they should not EVER have access to your children – abusers do not tend to suddenly stop abusing.

    When I was 6, I told my mother about some inappropriate touching from a boy in my class – she screamed and shouted at me and cried and her reaction frightened me so much I said she’d misunderstood and nothing bad had happened. Because of her reaction, I was then afraid to tell her when I started receiving physical abuse from my grandfather shortly after. This went on for years. I only told my mother when I was in my 20s, and at that point, she told me that he had abused her as a child. When I asked her why she had allowed me to be in the same situation, she said “Oh, I told him he wasn’t to touch you and he promised. I thought you’d tell me if he ever hurt you. And we couldn’t stop going to visit them because it might have made people talk.”

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Anon, isn’t that awful? I’m so sorry. And you’re absolutely right–LISTEN! A 6-year-old has no reason to make something like that up. They don’t understand. So listen!

  14. Ruth Baker

    On the topic of listening to your kids, it’s also important to be good at asking open ended questions without making them feel like their being grilled. I found randomly a list of questions other than “how was your day?” Some were off the wall like, ” which of your friends would best survive a natural disaster and why?” I used to ask my nephew or niece these questions and I loved their responses.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I love that so much!

  15. Diana Winkler

    Child abusers are not only male. I have heard many of stories of abuse victims that were abused by their mother, grandmother, and female babysitters. Be vigilant about checking out everyone who hangs around your kids. Teachers, coaches also need some oversight.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Very true! One of my best friends was abused by a woman. That’s why it’s so important to listen to your children. Sometimes they’ll tell us stuff we can’t even picture. But listen to them, because this happens!


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