Dear Dr. Debbie,
I have 10 year old daughter who is a gymnast….and part of USA Gymnastics. The current sexual abuse case hits close to home since we have always trusted the adults involved in her sport. She really wants to put the USA Gymnastics sticker on the car but I just can’t stomach it right now. Is there a way to talk to her about what happened? How much detail can a ten-year-old handle?
Proud But Protective Mom
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This is an extremely difficult situation. Your emotions are high and your instincts are to distance yourself and your daughter from the scandal. First we’ll address your protective instincts.
The topic of personal safety is something that parents can address from a very young age.
1. Appropriate Vocabulary
Start out using the proper names for all body parts during diapering and toilet training. It will be easier to have a conversation with your school-age child about appropriate touch, as well as the pain of a urinary tract infection, with words that don’t sound silly or shameful.
2. Your Body Belongs to You
A child should be treated respectfully, from the beginning, about his or her body. Ask, or at least announce, before you help with clothing, grooming, or other caregiving actions. A child should have a choice about hugs and kisses, both giving and receiving.
3. Identify Your Trusted Adults
Hopefully your daughter feels safe and secure among the family’s close friends and relatives. As her social circle widened with childcare or school and regular playmates, you built more bonds of trust with a few more adults. Talk frequently with your child about these people as a reminder that she is part of a network of care.
4. Learn to Listen to Your Fears
Find “teachable moments” to help your daughter recognize and know what to do when she is fearful. Never ridicule her for being afraid, rather, applaud her for recognizing this protective emotion. Be her calm and compassionate adult if the fearful experience is unavoidable, such as an injection at the doctor’s office, but let her skip the opportunity to touch an animal she’s not too keen about touching.
5. Authority Can Be Questioned
Assertiveness can be protective. Share some of your mistakes with your child. For example, admit to the load of wet laundry you totally forgot to dry yesterday. It is easier for a child to question an authority figure’s motives if she is comfortable with the idea that we are all fallible.
For more tips, Dr. Tobi Adeye Amosun, an experienced pediatrician and mother, has some straightforward guidance for strengthening a family’s defenses against sexual violation.
As for the current events, remember to shield your child from adult stuff. Courtroom drama is not for children. The topic of sexual predators need not be addressed unless you think she has a concern about this. By now she may have overheard or been part of other gymnasts’ conversations about what they think is going on. Use the simplest language to convey the seriousness of the situation. You can say that there are children and former children who are being very brave to tell their stories. Remind her that it is the job of adults to keep children safe and that the adults will carry out a legal process to impose consequences whenever that doesn’t happen. This is a good time to review who her “trusted adults” are, and that they, and you, are always open to listening to her talk, even about stuff that is hard to talk about.
You can be sure that there will be new protocols in place to protect your daughter and other young gymnasts. Let us trust that the good guys will use this travesty to make things better. As to the question of the car sticker, ongoing events and deeper discussions with your daughter will lead you to a comfortable decision. In a few weeks’ time, it may be easier to know whether to proudly proclaim her affiliation.
Click here for more parenting advice by Debbie Wood.
What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.