Talking to Your Children

talking-to-kidsStarting the Conversation

How to Talk to Your Children about Sexual Assault

As a parent, one of your main priorities is to ensure your children are safe and healthy. Sometimes this may mean having to talk about sensitive topics, such as sexual assault. However, according to Lakeland Health Sexual Assault Services Coordinator, Teresa Yoakum, RN, SANE-P, it’s never too early to begin the conversation.

“You should begin talking to your children about sexual assault as soon as possible to help them understand who should or should not be touching their bodies,” said Teresa. “While this may seem stressful or overwhelming to talk about, it can easily be worked into conversations you’re already having about safety and doing the right thing. When you take the time to do so, you are taking a critical step in preventing child sexual abuse in our community.”

If you’re not sure where to begin, use these four simple lessons as a guideline:

Explain what certain body parts mean – When talking with very young children it is appropriate to reference certain areas as girl and boy private parts. However, as children begin to talk about specific body parts, use their appropriate names and avoid slang terms. This helps give children the language they need to ask questions and express concerns about those body parts.

Empower your children to say “no” – Once children understand which body parts are private it’s important to explain that these body parts belong to the child and that only certain people should be touching or looking at them. They should know that it’s okay to say no if someone tries to touch him or her in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable or scared – even if this person is older or someone they know.

Help them understand secrets – Explain the difference between a good secret, such as a surprise birthday party, and a bad secret, such as breaking a toy. Then encourage them to tell someone they like or trust anytime they have a bad secret – even if that secret is with an adult.

Let them know they won’t get in trouble – If children fear that they will get in trouble or upset you by sharing a secret, they will be hesitant to be open and honest. Let them know that they can always ask questions or tell you about things that make them uncomfortable, and they will never be punished for it.

“Talking about sexuality and sexual abuse shouldn’t be saved for one big ‘talk’ about sex when your child is older,” said Teresa. “Instead you should build the topic into routine conversations that occur at many different ages throughout your child’s life. The key is to start talking when your children are young, and have these conversations often.”

Help is Here

Lakeland has a team of highly-trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) available 24 hours a day at all three Emergency Departments and the Children’s Advocacy Center in St. Joseph to care for individuals who have been sexually assaulted. The Forenic Care & Advocacy team can help sexual assault survivors begin the healing process immediately by providing specialized care to help them live full and happy lives. A referral is not needed and services are available for patients of all ages. To learn more visit

© Spectrum Health Lakeland 2021