It took me about a year to be sure that they knew what they were doing and that's what they were doing. And I immediately wrote my parents an email and got myself out of that situation,” says Ira Khan (Aamir Khan’s daughter) in an Instagram clip.
“I was blackmailed into having sex for the first time when I was fifteen....molested by a man when I was eighteen while unconscious in the back of a van,” reveals Matthew McConaughey in his new memoir Greenlights.
Today there are numerous Iras and Mathews in our society who were sexually abused as kids and had to go through a difficult phase. In some cases, kids find it difficult to understand, while in others, even after recognising they feel ‘utterly powerless’ to talk about it. What can parents do to repair the physical and psychological damage caused by abuse? How to make your child comfortable? And a lot more, explain experts.
Be your child’s comfort zone
It is never too early to talk about safety to your children. “It is important to introduce your child the concept of ‘good touch, bad touch’ at an early age, and build an inner circle of people whom they can trust and talk about anything and everything. I have a nine-year-old daughter Samara, I have taught her that if somebody said something to you, be it anything, you have to come and talk to me about it because I am here to protect you. As a parent you have to make your child feel comfortable,” says Riddhima Kapoor Sahni, a mother and fashion designer.
Sexual harassment does not see age, gender, or culture. In most cases, the perpetrators are the ones known to the family and hence children tend to accept the trauma without discussing it with anyone. “If the perpetrator knows the family then he/she may get involved in manipulating the family about the actions. And because of this, when a child has to express about the abuse, he/she struggles. If you notice that your child behaves differently with a certain individual you need to understand ‘why’ is your child behaving differently,” says Dr Venkatesh Babu G M, Consultant Psychiatry at Fortis Bengaluru who also consults at Practo.
Talk, talk and talk
It is extremely important to show interest in your child’s life and know the warning signs. “I have told my daughter no matter what you say I will trust you. I will make sure that you are comfortable because I put you before anyone else,” says Riddhima. She also adds, “Most parents shy away from talking about such topics and they tend to change the topic which is not right. My mother used to talk to us (Riddhima and her actor-brother Ranbir Kapoor) about everything and make sure we were prepared for the worst. We were very open to our mother (Neetu Kapoor) and I did the same to my daughter.”
If your child has ever faced any abuse make sure you manage your feelings well and create a safe environment for your little one. “Focus on ‘why’ it happened and not ‘what’. ‘What’ is not going to solve your issue, ‘why’ is going to. Think about why is your child behaving in a certain way and then try to find the answer,’ explains Dr Venkatesh. Parents and caregivers must increase their knowledge and awareness about preventive measures.
“Parents need to educate themselves on how to approach such topics with children in an age-appropriate way,” says Dr Mimansa Singh Tanwar, Lead Clinical Psychologist, Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences Fortis Healthcare who frequently collaborates with myUpchar.
Skills to prevent abuse
There are no proven ways we can protect our child from abuse but in certain ways, we can reduce the risk. “As the child completes three-four years, parents should teach them about safe and unsafe touch and the fact that the most trusted people in their environment are the parents. Educate them about their body parts and how somebody parts should not be touched by anybody else, because they are private. Let your child know that if they have any queries, they can always come and talk to you,” says Dr Mimansa. Another important skill she explains is, “Teach your child to say ‘no’. It important for the child to set boundaries as they grow older. Children who have had come across such episodes find it difficult to set boundaries for themselves.”
Adding to this, Dr Venkatesh says, “Nowadays, in most families, both parents are working. With their busy schedule, they face different challenges as far as children are concerned. Parents must not consider parenting an option, it has to be considered as a choice. The moment it is considered a choice it becomes a responsibility. Sex education is part of parenting. If you put it on the school to communicate about the biological development then you are only going to be part of the consequences. You must understand that you have to be part of the dialogues, you have to communicate because if you stop doing so it is going to be potentially harmful.”
Love is what they need
Make sure your child feels loved, trusted and supported. “The first and foremost thing is you have to love your child. You give love, you get love. Whether your child is doing anything wrong or right, your child must be able to you and talk about his/her problems. Every parent needs to build that confidence in their child. You have to give your child the comfort, love, and build confidence, trust. Even if they go through something, they will know that you will get the things right. That is the first thing that needs to be done,” says Riddhima.
Being Vocal Helps?
The stereotypes about abuse against children often prevent parents from seeking professional help. In recent years, conversations about mental and physical abuse have seen a shift from the private to the public sphere. “Where it comes to such issues where there is a lot of stigmas attached to it, people do get comfortable talking when they see certain people who have a certain kind of influence on people talk about it,” says Dr Mimansa.
While Dr Venkatesh believes celebrities talking about such issues can be a double edge sword. He believes on one hand; the voice of celebrities can communicate with the people who are finding it difficult to share their experiences. While on the other hand, it could also lead to 'romanticisation of the issue’.
The Fortis School Mental Health program conducts regular workshops at schools across the country to sensitise teachers towards sexual abuse, identify behavioural changes in kids and help them deal with it. Due to COVID pandemic, the department has been hosting art-based group therapy sessions online through their official Instagram handle @fortismentalhealth. Parents and children can also get in touch with them on their 24*7 helpline number +91 83768 04102.