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Protect Against Child Sexual Abuse

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Summer days bring camp and pools and sports—lots of free time when kids are playing on their own or being supervised by other adults. No parent wants to think about it, but in the era of scary abuse headlines, it's important to make sure your child understands the rules about appropriate and inappropriate touching. Sadly, a sexual predator is very often a person your child knows well—not a stranger. Cindy Christian, M.D., chair of the AAP Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect, reveals how to keep your child safe:

Give an anatomy lesson:  Always use the correct terms for private body parts—this will help put your child at ease if she has to tell you about a touch that worried her. Talk about the privacy of her body as well—that no one is supposed to touch the private parts (unless it's the doctor and you're in the room, too).

Banish secrets:  Let your child know that parents and kids don't keep secrets from each other. “The message to kids should be simple and clear: If anybody tries to touch you where it's private, you always have to tell Mom or Dad,” says Dr. Christian. Also tell your child that she shouldn't believe an adult who threatens harm if she tells anyone what occurred.

Make hugs optional:  And kisses, too. Insisting your kid cozy up to Aunt Martha or a family friend can make her feel uncomfortable. By letting her pick whom she wants to hug, she'll gain the confidence—and practice—she needs to be able to say “no” to an unwelcome adult. 

Learn what's normal: Some kids twirl their hair, others touch their genitals. “It's natural for kids to explore their bodies and fondle themselves,” points out Dr. Christian. But if your child suddenly seems overly preoccupied with sexual play, talk to your pediatrician.

Believe what she says: If your child tells you someone has touched her inappropriately, reassure her that you're not upset with her, and that you'll get help right away. Call your doctor, the police, or the child welfare agency.

•100% of states require sex offenders to be registered with local police.

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