My 3-year-old shouldn’t be impacted by both Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Month of the Military Child.
I was not prepared for the call I got at work one afternoon. An incident had occurred at the child development center (CDC) involving my little girl.
They wanted me to come over and review the video footage, but when I arrived something had happened as they were trying to pull up the footage they had saved.
The flight chief, who had reviewed the video, was relieved, assuring me that thankfully, my daughter slept through the entire ordeal.
During a 20-minute period, while my daughter was sleeping, a little boy had been putting his hands up her skirt and touching her. He would stop whenever the provider was making the rounds, then he would roll over and do it again.
I was shocked. Initially I thought it must be one of the older kids because the age range in her room was three to five.
I debated signing my daughter out for the day, but realized I had to handle the news. They had a Military and Family Life Consultant who talked with me about some things I should watch for.
When I left the CDC, I got in my car and just cried. When I finally stopped, I called my husband to tell him the news.
Things started racing through my mind – my daughter had been having problems sleeping – had I missed the signs? How many times has this happened? Does she know?
The CDC couldn’t tell me who the other little boy was because of their policy and out of respect for the other family, but I eventually found out. It wasn’t an older child, but another 3-year old.
As a victim advocate, I realized this little boy had also been exposed to something he shouldn’t have.
These two were innocent children whose worlds should be filled with happy times and warm memories.
I had so many unanswered questions and I know the other mom did too.
I started to ask my daughter questions at the advice of the MFLC without probing. In the car I would ask questions like, who do you like to play with at school? She listed some of the girls. I asked her if she played with any of the boys and she told me one little boy pulls her pants down out on the playground and touched her “pee-pee.”
She announced: “I’m going to tell daddy, (little boy’s name) pulls my pants down.”
I told her she should. And I regret not telling her sooner then that behavior like that is not okay and she should tell someone immediately. If I had taken the time to have the conversation with my daughter, maybe the things happening could have been avoided.
As parents, we never want anything bad to happen to our children. We felt helpless. I remember holding her longer during our nightly ritual before bed. With my arms wrapped around her, I could shield her from any more hurt.
But the reality was, I couldn’t undo what happened to my daughter and my big, strong, protective husband couldn’t protect his baby girl from another 3-year old.
I channeled my anger and frustration toward noncompliance with Air Force Instructions. During a CDC Parent Advisory Board meeting I brought up their closed circuit monitoring system policy not being fully functional and how they didn’t post a sign that the room had been exposed to the incident.
Other parents needed to know that they have to have that “talk” with their 3-year-olds. When my concerns were dismissed, I fought harder.
In the end, the CDC did get a new camera system and posted a sign months after the incident informing parents. They also hosted a special meeting with support agencies to answer questions parents may have.
I’m thankful for the provider who had the courage to bring the incident to her leadership – otherwise we may have never known. I’m appreciative of the comfort and support I received from CDC director, assistant directors and the providers who had my daughter’s best interest at heart.
Here are a few things I learned that might help you and your family:
1. Teach the anatomical names for body parts.One of the biggest things I learned was from Lt. Col. Jiffy Seto, the 436th Aerospace Medicine Squadron commander. As a doctor and parent, he said it is important to teach children the anatomical names of their body parts. That helps alleviate any confusion about where they may have been touched when they tell an adult.
Even as toddlers and preschoolers it helps them communicate more effectively. I’ve been a little embarrassed at times when my daughter shouts, “ouch, my v-word” in a public place, but I just look at anyone hearing it and know it’s not for them, it’s for her.
2. It's never too early (or too late) to teach about safety.I thought my preschooler was too young to learn about inappropriate touching, but I was wrong. During a personal safety program for kids, Ken Wooden from Child Lures Prevention taught about the importance of setting perimeters for your children in dealing with strangers. He even showed videos about how Princeton college students had fallen prey to baiting tactics to lure people.
3. Teach at your child's level of understanding.Wooden explained that a good way to teach children about their private places is to tell them anything their bathing suit covers is an inappropriate place for anyone to touch them.
Later, a parent even shared a little jingle: “Stop, don’t touch me there, this is my no, no square.” It’s a catchy song children can sing as they put their hand out at arm’s length saying stop, then draw a square with their fingers around their torso.
My daughter will start kindergarten next year, and I’ll remind her as she goes off to school, but for now, she’s armed with the knowledge.
I know we can’t protect our children from everything, but my hope is this month at least one parent can learn from our experience.
Don’t let your children become victims. Have the “talk” today.
Christin Michaud is an Air Force wife of 11 years. She and her husband have two children now age 9 and 5.