Kids Hiding Things From You? Here Is What You Are Doing Wrong

By the time children turn three, they start developing a world of their own. But reported incidents of abuse in schools, school buses, with uncles and staff members still send goose bumps of fear down a parents spine. There is some merit in creating awareness amongst children, as videos on sexual abuse are trying to do. You may also like: Stop using love as the carrot to discipline your childIn all the cases of childhood abuse that I have dealt with, I pose the question-“Did you tell your parents?” It is our most important responsibility as a parent, to ensure that our children be able to tell us if, god forbid, any form of abuse or even a hint of it, were to occur. There are two reasons:Children are scared of their parents reaction.
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“Listen earnestly to anything [your children] want to tell you, no matter what. If you don’t listen eagerly to the little stuff when they are little, they won’t tell you the big stuff when they are big, because to them all of it has always been big stuff.â€_x009d_ Catherine Wallace

If you recollect your childhood, you will remember a whole secret world that your parents had no idea about. A world of secrets and fun, gossip and adventures; mostly innocent, some not. And today, as a parent, it scares me to think that there will be a lot that my child will not share with me.

By the time children turn three, they start developing a world of their own. This world, comprising of teachers, classmates, friends, uncles, aunts and grandparents; is their own. In this world, they are trying to figure out who they are, how to behave and what their dos and don’ts are. While Mummy and Papa continue to be the security blanket, they are now spring-boarding into a wider world. We try our best to be vigilant and keep our children safe. But reported incidents of abuse in schools, school buses, with uncles and staff members still send goose bumps of fear down a parent’s spine. And hoping that your child will tell you if anything untoward happens, is just not enough of a safety net.

There is some merit in creating awareness amongst children, as videos on sexual abuse are trying to do. And it is important. But as a therapist, I also find it worrying to instill fear in such small, innocent minds. And the moment you start talking to a three-year-old about good touch and bad touch; you are definitely planting seeds of fear and mistrust about the world. Imparting this knowledge helps if the perpetrator is a stranger. Most often, however, these are people well known to the child.

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In all the cases of childhood abuse that I have dealt with, I pose the question-“Did you tell your parents?” Sometimes, the answer is ‘yes, but was told to keep quiet or not believed ‘(this happens when it is a family member like an Uncle or cousin). Most times, though the answer is ‘No’. And the reason is always, always that children blame themselves. That somehow it was their fault. They suppress it; allow it to shape their personality. No matter how young a child is, awareness of sexuality is primal, it is coded into human DNA. We know that something ‘wrong’ is occurring. I find this absolutely heartbreaking, that a vulnerable child could somehow think that they are to blame for such monstrous abuse. And parents would probably never know about something so horribly traumatic happening to their baby.

It is our most important responsibility as a parent, to ensure that our children be able to tell us if, god forbid, any form of abuse or even a hint of it, were to occur. Let’s first decode why children don’t tell us. There are two reasons:

  1. Children are scared of their parents’ reaction. Your normal response to their mistakes and ‘bad’ behaviour decides their comfort to share or not. For example, you are particularly strict about lies or hiding the truth, they may avoid admitting their mistakes to you. And it is entirely possible then, that the guilt about any abuse encounter combines with their fear of your reaction and they keep quiet instead. Or, if you are overly particular about social behaviour and good manners, it may scare them off telling a family friend or any ‘grown-up’ for that matter. No parent likes to believe that their kids are scared of him or her. But if you observe them carefully, you will know if they are. Do they placate you quickly when you start explaining or lecturing? If yes, then there is a strong chance that your child will not feel comfortable telling you if he is in distress or confusion.
  2. Children exemplify trust. They truly believe the world is a place filled with love, play time and fun. There is no place in that world for doubt or suspicion. And since most cases of abuse involve people known to the parents, there is already a measure of trust towards that person. ‘If mummy has left me with this person, they must be ok’. Children are innocent. They believe grown-ups. So they don’t tell.

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Here’s what you can do to raise a socially-aware and a communicative child. 

  1. Be your child’s friend: Balance your role as a parent and a friend. Be strict with them when necessary but don’t forget to balance it out with listening and playing and apologising. Be vigilant that they are telling you the small stuff. Listen intently when they tell you about fights, incidents during play dates, help them resolve their little issues. Keep the channel of communication flowing so that if ever something truly bad were to happen, that too, would flow to you.
  2. Educate them about right and wrong: Building awareness about abuse, in particular, is not enough; it is critical for them to know what kind of behaviour is unacceptable. For example, my daughter came and told me the other day that the cleaning lady broke the tap by mistake. The cleaner’s instant reaction to my child was ‘don’t tell mummy, I will fix it’. Now, messages like this from other people tell my child that I am an authority figure and that it is ok to hide things from me. But it is most certainly not ok.

Image Source: Prothom Alo

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