Thursday, April 07, 2011

Books as aids to keeping a child safe from sexual abuse

Let me begin by saying that literature for very small children does not lack cautionary tales.

We have a multitude of nursery rhymes which bring up the element of abuse and bullying, introducing these as a possibility. Think of Georgie Porgie kissing the girls and making them cry, or a great big spider coming along to bother Miss Muffet.

We have fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood who was attacked by the Big Bad Wolf, or the Grimm Brothers' version The Wolf and the Seven Young Kids where the kids are attacked when the mother goat is out shopping, or those like The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Anderson and the parallel character of the White Witch in the Narnia series, - I could go on.

Then we have the book series like Berenstain bears books (Learn about strangers), the gentle, funny Mike Gordon books that make the kids think, like SafetyThe Playground ProblemI Feel BulliedIts Not FairI Feel Sad and many more that deal with peer behaviour, intimidation, feelings of sadness and guilt, etc, that are key terms in any kind of abuse, including sexual abuse.

Educating children about their bodies, biological changes at puberty and answering questions about gender and sexuality is empowering to the child as it dispels myths and insecurities brought about by information gathered from peers and the media, which can be really crippling sometimes.

There are many wonderful books that can be used with children, like Babette Cole's Hair in funny placesMummy never told me and Mummy laid an egg.

Then there are the amazing selection of books by Robie H. Harris which however have the disadvantage of too much information in one book, which might not be all needed at the same time. Parents can however find these books a great help for empowering themselves to talk to their children, as well as use them with children if they feel comfortable about it.

These books, or maybe some other books that may be found with a quick search online, and which may be available at the local book store /or library may be looked up to use in teaching your child to keep safe. Here are some books used specifically by me on the topic at hand. Clicking on the link under the image will also take you to a more comprehensive list of similar books that may be used by parents to address their particular needs, as not all children nor all parents may have the same level of comfort, and may need a different approach.

That said, it is up to each parent to assess their child and choose the best age / method of educating their child, and if using a book doesn't work for them, that is OK, too. As long as steps are taken to protect the child.

Pic courtesy

A Parent's Guide to Sexuality Education.
Written by Tarshi
Published by Zubaan Books

A good book for any parent to read, it guides them through the why, when and how of sex education, dispelling any myths like- "if my child has this information, he/ she will be tempted to experiment." On the contrary. The book enables parents to ensure that their child knows how to recognise inappropriate behaviour, and is able to stand up against it.

So how does one speak to the child at different ages? Discussions appropriate for and understandable by teenagers may not be so for preteens or even younger children. The book discusses issues important at the different ages and the ways to approach them.

Other than the aspect of sex education and awareness against sexual abuse, the book also deals with topics relevant to peer behaviour like playing doctor-doctor, social images, sex talk, infatuations, experimentation, 'cool' behaviour, sexual harrasment, date-rape, substance abuse, intimate partner abuse, gendering, etc.
Empowerment is the way to prevent and deal with abuse. A comprehensive book.

Tarshi, the creators of this book, also have other books like 'The Orange book' which is a resourse book for teachers and schools, 'The Red book', which is aimed towards children 10-14 yrs of age, and 'The Blue book', which is for children older than 15 yrs. The last two are also available in many regional languages of India like Hindi, Gujarati, Bangla, Kannada, Marathi, Oriya, Tamil and Telugu.  

Having educated myself, I went about looking for books to share with my child. Found some great ones.

Pic courtesy
Also available at flipkart

Written by Sandy Kleven
Illustrated by Jody Bergsma
Ages : 4+ read-aloud

Bedtimes are quiet times, a time for Jimmy and his mother to talk about anything that they may want to talk about. They talk about hugs, and tickling, and surprises, and how all these would be a problem if he did not want them.

They talk about a girl, someone real, who he does not know, who was called by someone into their house to look at some kittens, and this someone told her that they would show her the kittens if she sat on their lap, and feeling uneasy about that, she ran away to her home, and told her parents all about it, and how the someone who had called her got into trouble over it.

They talk about when it is OK for someone to touch him, and when it is not. How parts covered by a swimming suit are out of bounds. How it is OK for him to say "NO!" Even if it is to someone older. Even if it is to someone he loves. Even if that could upset that person.

"If something like this happens to you, don't be afraid to tell me, even if it is supposed to be a secret. And remember, touching problems are never a child's fault."

The book has notes for the parent / caregiver that are very succint and helpful. A great resource book, suitable for children as young as 4 yrs old, with gentle text in the form of a heart-to-heart talk between a mother and her child, and lovely full page illustrations that will keep a child's attention riveted. There is nothing explicit in the book, and nothing that a 4+ yr old may not be ready for.

Pic courtesy
Also available at flipkart

Written by Linda Walvoord Girard
Illustrated by Rodney Pate
Published by Albert Whitman & Co
Ages 8+

Much along the lines of the previous book, this is the story of Julie, told by her in the first person. She is at an age when she already knows that things belonging to someone are can be private, out of bounds to others. Like someone's personal letter, or her mother's handbag.

So it is a simple thing for her mother to broach the idea that the parts of her body covered by a swimsuit (I think this is a wonderful method of identifying their private body parts for even very young children) are private too, and that "nobody should touch me in those places unless there is a very good reason." She specifies that this holds true for boys as well as girls.

"It might be a stranger, or it may be someone you know, like a babysitter, a teacher, or a friend," Mom said, "or even someone in our family. It probably won't ever happen. You don't need to worry about it; you just need to know what to do-- the way you know what to do if a fire starts."
"I'd get mad," I told Mom. "I'd shout NO and run away."
"Good!" she said. "And you must come and tell me what happened... matter who it is- I don't care if it's Santa Claus- you tell me...or some grown-up you trust...
...Never be afraid to tell. No matter what happened, it's not your fault."

Evocative sketches in black-and-white-and-sepia bring alive the easy conversations in the text to us, giving us a peek into Julie's family. With Julie, A also experienced a sense of empowerment in the affirmation that she had a right to say NO! Even if it is to someone she loves and trusts; someone who could misuse that trust!

A note for parents at the end of the book says "You need to feel comfortable talking about...or your child will pick up your discomfort and may be reluctant to talk."

Some of these books may have a younger age specified on them than the parent may be comfortable with for their particular child. Again, I would say, you are the best judge.

I used 'The Right Touch' first to broach the topic to A when she was about 7, as I didn't want to scare her. I sat and read the book to her, at a quiet one-to-one time. She had many questions, which, thanks to 'The Yellow Book,' I had satisfactory answers to. The third book, 'My body is private,' was a more recent addition, and one that she could read and comprehend by herself now, although we did read it through together. And yes, there were many questions now too, with better insight, thanks to her age and peer group.

I had never kept any caretakers for her, or ever had any babysitters, so I was with her at all times till she was almost 3. After that, I did keep telling her about how parts of her body are private, stranger danger, and how she needed to keep me informed all the time as to her whereabouts. More about that with our last book.

Pic courtesy

Be sensible - and safe
Written by Helen Hollick
Illustrated by Lynda Knott
Ages 4+ read aloud
A read-aloud story to help prevent child sexual abuse.

All parents can identify with this book, whether abuse is a possibility or not.

When Jenny plays with her friends in the park near her house, her mother can usually keep an eye on her from their window.

One day, Jenny was not to be seen anywhere, and her mother became frantic looking for her. Jenny had actually just gone to her friend Darren's house with him for an ice-cream, and got scolded by her mother on returning.

'Jenny was upset and began to cry. Why was Mum so angry?
Back indoors, Mrs McCann gave Jenny a big hug.
"I'm not really angry," she said, "but sometimes worrying makes you say and feel things you don't mean."
"I was only at Darren's house," sniffed Jenny.
"But I didn't know that, did I?" Mum answered.'

Then Jenny and her mother had a long chat about strangers, and how they can sometimes, not always, be bad, and how it is not easy to tell the good from the bad. How sometimes we need to take help from strangers. But, how it is important that she must not go anywhere with anyone, or get into someone's car or house without first asking her parents, or her teacher, or a trusted adult who is looking after her.

Also that a person who does not mean her any harm will usually not object to her informing her parents, or will not ask her to keep anything that they say or do a secret.

"The best and the most important thing to do," Mum added "is to always come and tell me where you want to go, long as you tell one of us, we will know where you are and that you are safe."

The book gives relevant points for discussion with a child, and cautions, that when children do come and tell, "It is your part of the bargain, as an adult, to listen when they do come and tell."

I usually do that, sit down with a book when A is playing, so that I can keep an eye on her, and so that she can inform me if she wants to go elsewhere. And yes, going off to anyone's house is not allowed, except when they are people I know and trust.

Here are some more books, printed material and other resources for parents to use to keep their child safe from the big bad wolf. There are also books like this one recently reviewed right here at Saffrontree, which is an award-winning YA book dealing with abuse at home , or this book by Anita Naik for teens - 'Little Book Self-Esteem', a wonderful book that I intend introducing to A a few years later. (Click on the link for similar books dealing with self-esteem and bullying, major monsters for children to overcome.)

Crossposted here and at CSAAM .


starry eyed said...

Thanks for the list Sandhya....these are totally appropriate ways of talking abt it. I agree with you abt the Robie Harris books...there are pictures and chapters in ours that I'm not too happy abt letting my 9 year old read yet, so it's tucked away from her.

diya said...

Thank you very much for this information. my daughter is 11 almost an year ago, we were entering the neighbourhood grocery store when a man who was coming out of the same shop said something and pressed her cheek. i gave a weak smile, I thought he was one of the uncles living in our lane and knew my child, who played in the lane everyday. My baby looked at me with a sad smile and said, "Ma I didn't like that" (what the man did), I asked her whether she knew him and she said "no"! I was aghast, a man can, before my eyes threaten my girl and walk away and I could not do anything about it! What would happen if I am not there?! i told my baby to run away if any other man tries to touch her this way...but I think she, and I too, need better guidance regarding this. I will most definitely try to get my hands on a few of these books. Thanks

Choxbox said...

Brill post S. I liked My Body Is Private a lot - for its simplicity in delivering the message. The Harris books are full of info - so yes one does have to pick and choose.

Would you add What is a Girl? What is a Boy? (by Kamala Bhasin, published by Jagori - remember we bought it together?) though not about sexual abuse, it does talk about gender differences and similarities and could be a starting point to carry on a discussion about CSA.

Meera Sriram said...

Excellent post Sandhya! I loved the intro - it was as gentle as the (sensitive) issue itself. And also how you eased us into the importance and role of books in such matters.
The books sound very appropriate too. Thanks, will be coming back to them soon.

utbtkids said...

Good resource Sandhya. Book marking it for reference.

ranjani.sathish said...

What a thorough and well researched post this is !! Great job Sandhya...will look out for these books.

Sheela said...

Wonderful post and an excellent resource, Sandhya! Thank you! I know I'll come back to this.

sandhya said...

Thank you, Starry, Diya, Choxbox, Meera, utbtkids, Ranjani, Sheela, for the encouraging words. I am glad I got to do this post, as I learnt a lot in the process, much that has helped me personally. As parents, I suppose there isn't much we wouldn't do to keep our children safe.

@Starry: I actually came to know about the Robie Harris books from your post on the birds and bees some time ago, and checked them out when I had been to the Strand sale with Chox. They are wonderful, but I did not agree with the ages specified, and there isway too much in them. Maybe they should look at publishing individual chapters separately. I don't know.:)

@Chox: Yes, that book by Jaagori is a wonderful one to empower kids re gendering. Thanks for mentioning it. Had totally slipped my mind. For those interested, we had picked up this book from sutradhar in Bangalore, and here is the link.

@Diya: Welcome here, and thanks for your comment. Hugs. I know how you feel. I know how you may blame yourself. I have had to tell off autowallas, co-passengers in trains etc if I thought they were being inappropriate. Once I was told "yeh to meri beti jaisi hai!" (she is like my daughter!) I told him that "beti to nahin hai na?" (but she is not your daughter!)But sometimes even we could get misled. Don't blame yourself. I hope that man gets his comeuppance.

Vibha said...

Sandhya, you have done a wonderful job with this post and I have posted this link to almost all the people I know online.

Last Saturday we held a small session with the children of our apartment complex as part of the Bal-vikas that a friend of mine takes every week. We talked to them about how not to ignore the feeling of 'discomfort' in any kind of situation, it is very important to first recognize the feeling and then say a firm 'No' to it. We are planning to have such sessions every 3-4 months and these books will surely help us in bringing the point home.

Praba Ram said...

Thank you Sandhya for this very important list of books on CSA. The discussion and your recommendations make a scary/makes-me-uneasy-to-talk topic seem easy to approach.

Would be wonderful if these books are made available for families and caregivers to access and also for social workers to distribute/use them in the public, esp poorer areas. They are probably using different locally appropriate materials already.

Any form of public awareness programs will help. But we have come a long way, haven't we? Thanks for bringing this list to us.

sandhya said...

Thanks, Prabha, Vibha.

@Vibha: That is a wonderful initiative that has been taken up. I tried to talk to the ladies in my building, but barring a few, I met with a lot of resistance. Somehow there is this misconception that it will be like giving licence to unwanted behaviour. Also, a lot of ladies thought that the children get such cautionary tales from hindi films anyway, so why bother? That films present a glorified /lopsided version doesn't seem to bother them.

Friends who know where to find me can borrow the books I have.

Poppins said...

An admirable effort Sandhya, truly awesome. I've been following a bit of this and the responses to CSA over the internet and although I still don't quite know the approach to use when educating my children, atleast I am asking myself questions. Uncomfortable perhaps but questions nonetheless.

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