Holiday season is typically filled with merriment and excitement. There are extended family members around your home and everyone seems happy. As a parent, especially if you are hosting, all bets are off. You are all over the place as you try to make sure that everyone is comfortable. The children are running around in the house and the adults are catching up. In the middle of all the excitement, darkness may be lurking in the shadows. Many of the family members around at this time of the year are not people that you see on a regular basis. Despite that, you let your guard down because they are family.
The reality is that 60% of perpetrators of sexual abuse are known to the child. Also, 95% of sexually abused children are abused by someone they know and trust (NAPCAN, 2009). Before you conclude that you will simply keep an eye on your child around adult family members or friends, you should know that about 40% of children who are sexually abused are abused by older or more powerful children (Finkelhor, 2012). To add an extra layer of perspective, Snyder, 2000 reported that 84% of sexual victimization of children occur in the residence (not randomly in the public as often thought). Knowing what you know now, you can see how your children are more exposed to sexual abuse or molestation during family gatherings. Effectively, this time of the year has the complete recipe for disaster if you are not attentive as a parent:
- Lots of adult family members and friends (trusted individuals).
- Lots of children who may or may not be older than your own children.
- Lots of distraction from the merriment and
- The potential of spending a lot of time indoors.
To ensure that the most wonderful time of the year does not leave a lifelong scar on your child, I will share with you a set of six actionable steps that you can take to protect your child during this holiday gathering:
- Have a stern (age appropriate) conversation with your child/children before you travel or before family members arrive at your home. You want to do this a few days before the festivities to ensure that your children can ask you questions should they think of any. Also, you do not want to have this conversation after family members are beginning to arrive to prevent your children from associating negativity to the family member that is already at your home.
- Reassure your children that you are NEVER too busy to listen to them. Doing this makes the child more comfortable coming to you during the holiday chaos if something "weird" happens.
- Keep your eyes and ears open. In other words, be an attentive parent. We all know that if children are out of sight for too long, they are most likely getting into stuffs. If you have not seen your child around the home for what feels like "a long time", go and look around for him/her. Don't take that feeling lightly or dismiss it without second thought. Check in periodically with your children during this holiday season. If you must, set your phone alarm to remind you every 30-45 minutes. Before you dismiss this suggestion as paranoia think about how much agony doing this could save you and your child in the future.
- This one is obvious but I will still share- if there has ever been a question around a particular family member about sexual abuse or molestation, DO NOT invite him/her into your home. This point right here is the reason why we have multi-generational sexual trauma in families. You know uncle Tom is "touchy", but somehow you still feel obligated to invite him for Christmas because "he is family". Well, I call BS. Family or not, if you have presented as a potential pig towards adults or children, you are not invited to my home. The idea that we have to tolerate, harbor, or condone family members who are perpetrators is a sentiment that continue to damage families and this must stop. If you don't trust someone, family or not, don't invite them.
- Finally, debrief your child/children after the festivities to see their perception about the overall season. You will be surprised at what your kids will share with you only if you ask.
I hope that you keep these steps in mind as you enjoy the merriment of the season. Have a lovely Christmas and a Happy New Year friends.