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Health & Parenting

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Protecting Your Child From Sex Abuse

Experts explain how to recognize signs that your child may have been a victim of sex abuse.

Good Touch, Bad Touch continued...

"Explain that there are 'good' touches -- like a hug, or a pat on the back, or a kiss on the cheek; there are 'bad' touches -- like when somebody hits you or pushes you. And there are 'secret' touches -- where somebody wants to touch you and they say you have to keep it a secret," Amaranth tells WebMD.

Then, she says, make sure the child knows that if anybody wants to give them a "secret" touch, they should say "no" -- and tell Mommy or Daddy right away.

Moreover, Fiedler says many parents can also use the bathing suit analogy to further help their children define "secret touch" areas.

"You can tell them that any area where a bathing suit covers is their private place -- and this is the area they don't want other people to touch. As the child gets older, more age-appropriate details can be added," says Fielder.

Moreover, both experts say parents need to have this talk with their children on a very frequent basis.

"Make it part of family conversation. When your child comes home from school ask them to tell you about the 'good' touches they had that day; then ask them about any 'bad' touches. Finally ask if anyone tried to have a secret touch. If your child gets used to hearing these terms they will feel more comfortable sharing information with you on the subject," says Amaranth.

Listen to Your Children

In addition to talking to your kids, child advocacy experts advise parents to listen -- and become tuned in to what is "normal" behavior for their children. The point here: To immediately be able to recognize when something is out of sync -- often an early sign of abuse.

"Basically if a child's behavior changes significantly in a way that does not fit with normal development, parents should inquire what's up -- and consider sexual abuse or other traumatic experiences as a possibility, " says Lucy Berliner, director of the Harborview Center for Sexual Assault & Traumatic Stress in Seattle, Washington.

What's also important, say experts, is to look for patterns in behavior changes, specifically as they relate to an individual -- such as an uncle, stepfather or neighbor -- or a specific event, such as soccer practice or a scout meeting.

"Does your child become upset or seem uncomfortable every time he has to spend time with Uncle Joey -- or in older children, every time they have soccer practice or gym class? You need to pay attention to these kinds of outside cues," says Amaranth.

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