Gail Ryan, M.A., and her associates at the Children’s Kempe Center in Denver, Colorado teach that by focusing on three Universal Goals, we can help children develop protective factors and skills that will reduce the risk of being abused AND reduce the risk of developing sexually harmful behaviors. The Universal Goals grew from Ryan’s work with children who have been found to sexually harm other children and the research on adult sex offenders. Those who abuse often lack good communication skills (the ability to get their needs met by communicating verbally); empathy (the ability to read emotions in others and respond appropriately); and accountability (the ability to understand that they are responsible for their own behavior and how that behavior affects others, but that they are not responsible for others’ behaviors.)
Thus the Universal Goals are:
Each time you help a child express herself using words, you are doing sexual abuse prevention. Studies have shown that children with good communication skills (including correct names for all body parts) may be less likely to be targeted by some offenders. Also, children with good communication skills do not have to act out to get their needs met.
Each time you help a child see how his/her behavior has affected someone else, you nurture empathy development. Children need to be able to identify and name emotions in others (facial expressions, body language) and respond in healthy ways. They also need to be able to express their own feelings so that they can get the help and protection they need from adults.
Each time you help a child take responsibility (accountability) for their own behavior and make amends for their mistakes, you help them avoid cognitive distortions and enjoy healthy bonds with others.
The importance of keeping open communication with children about any topic, including sexuality, cannot be emphasized enough. We are not all comfortable answering children’s questions about sexuality, but we can learn the skills to do this. Ask yourself where children currently get information about sexuality (where babies come from, gender roles, how pregnancy occurs, etc.) and you soon realize that not all of the messages they receive are positive and healthy.
Some sources of messaging about sexuality including what it means to be a male/female include:
You can be the safe adult in a child’s life who helps them understand the bombardment of messages they are receiving. If they cannot come to you for honest and accurate information, perhaps they will turn to the internet or friends – sources that do not always give healthy and accurate messages about our bodies and sexuality.
Learn more about protecting children from sexual abuse by booking one of our trainings.