“Mom, you know how boys have a penis?”

Gulp, oh boy.  “Yes, son.”

“Girls don’t have a penis there.”

“Yeeeeah…” Where are we going with this??

“So is it okay to touch there?”

Phew!  I GOT this one.  “NO.”

He took a minute to digest that bit of information.  Clear and simple.  There is no equivocating on this one.

“If it’s underneath underwear, we don’t touch there.”  He nods, he’s tracking.  “And remember, girls wear two pieces of underwear.  And there’s no touching under either one.”

“They have two?” he asks.

“Yes.  You know what a bra is.  That’s like underwear.  We don’t touch under it.”

“Oh okay.”

Keeping it clear and simple.

When it comes to clear and simple things, I like to keep the directions clear and simple.  He doesn’t need a lot of information.  He has the important part.  No touching.  Under the underwear is a clear line of what not to cross.  And underwear covers basically the same area on both boys and girls.

I’ve found that simple works best with kids.  And being very clear.

They don’t handle grey areas very well.  That’s something that comes with age.  As they get older, the answers can get more nuanced and complicated.  But the younger they are, the simpler the answer needs to be.

I also try to let these kinds of conversations happen naturally.  When things come up, we talk about them.  I try my best to seize the opportunities that my kids give me.  Something prompted that question.  I have no idea what it was.  But he tossed me the ball, and I’m going to run with it.

“You don’t touch anyone under the underwear.  You don’t ever touch someone there without their permission.  And no one should be touching YOU there.  AND, they shouldn’t be asking for permission.”

“Yeah.” He agrees.  He understands.

But I’m not done yet.

Because pedophiles are not clear and simple.  They aren’t overt.

They are tricky and manipulative.

So, my job is to get there ahead of them the best that I can.

“Most people know that it’s wrong to touch those places.  So, if someone is asking, they know it’s wrong.”

He nods, he’s following.

“And if they’re doing something that they know is wrong, they might ask you to keep it a secret.  But that’s not a secret we keep.”

“No.” he agrees

“You know what the difference is between a secret and a surprise is, right?”


But I’m not leaving it to chance.  This is too important.

“A surprise is something that we’re going to tell.  We’re just keeping it a secret for a little bit so that someone has a nice surprise.  But we all know we’re going to tell.  We’re just waiting for the right time.”  He nods.  But I can see him thinking.  He’s thinking about it.

“Like your birthday present?”

“Exactly!  You keep it a secret for a little bit, so that I have a nice surprise.  But you know I’m going to find out about it.  It’s only a secret for a little bit so that it’s a nice thing for me.”  I give it a second to sink in.  “But someone touching where they aren’t supposed to isn’t a surprise.  That’s a secret, something someone wants to hide because they know it’s wrong.”

He nods.  I’ve got his full attention.  Not easy with my little guy.

“When people do something they know is wrong, they want to keep it a secret so they don’t get in trouble.  And touching where you’re not supposed to is something people know is wrong, and would want to keep secret.”

“Yeah, but I would tell.”

Ah, but here’s the thing, son: would you?

“You know, sometimes when someone does something they know is wrong, and want you to keep it a secret, they might make you feel bad, or scare you, or threaten you so that you keep their secret.”

I get a puzzled look.

“They could tell you: “I’ll hurt your Mom if you tell” or “this was your fault.”

He’s thinking about that one.

“Then I would lie.”

That’s my boy.  He’s thinking this through now.

I’ve got him.  I’ve got him thinking.  He’s thinking about how he would handle it.  Perfect.

“Yes.  That’s when it’s okay to lie.”

“Yeah, it’s okay to lie then, right mom?”

“Yes, baby.  If you need to lie because someone is making you feel not safe, then it’s okay to lie.  You have my permission to lie to someone if they are making you feel not safe.  But then what do you do?”

“I tell you.”

That’s my boy!

“Yes, son.  You say whatever you need to say so that you can get away to somewhere safe.  And then you tell me.  You know why?”


“Because then I can deal with it.  And you know what?”


“Someone who would try to get you to keep a secret by saying they would hurt me, is not someone who is going to hurt me.  I can deal with them.”

“Yeah.”  He grins.  He has faith.

I don’t talk to my kids very often about these things.  But I try to take advantage of the opportunities they provide.  I have no idea what prompted this bedtime conversation.  For all I know it all started with the fact that he’s got a penis and I don’t (can’t slip much past this child).  But since he brought it up, I went there.

Once you learn some of how pedophiles operate, it can change your approach to teaching your kids.

Some things to keep in mind about pedophiles:

  1. Most are someone familiar to the child. And perhaps even trusted by the family.  So, teach kids about how to handle it if someone says or does something they shouldn’t-even if it’s someone they trust.
  2. Most pedophiles spend time “grooming” their victims. They start touching them away from any areas they shouldn’t.  Just to get their victim used to being touched by them.  The victim may be uncomfortable but allows it, since it isn’t “bad” and they don’t want to create problems.  And they “like” the person, and they know that their parents trust this person.
  3. The abuser can manipulate the victim. Blaming them, threatening someone they care about, using manipulation to get the victim to keep silent.  It allows them to get away with it, and continue it.
  4. Kids can feel trapped. They don’t want to tell and get the other person in trouble.  But they don’t like what is being done.  They are taught not to lie.  I give my children my express permission to lie if they feel they need to in order to be safe.  That they can tell the person making them feel unsafe anything they need to.  And then tell ME the truth, and I’ll handle it.  Which, believe me, I will.
  5. I also try to instill in my children the understanding that sometimes someone can make them feel uncomfortable, and they may not be able to identify why. And that’s okay.  It’s okay to avoid that person.  And they should tell me.  We don’t listen to our instincts enough.  Our “instincts” are really our brains processing lots of information and putting it together.  We may not have black and white definitive proof of something.  But if your instincts are telling you something is off-listen.  And teach your kids to do the same.

Giving them the right tools.

I can’t always be there.  I won’t always be there.  But, hopefully, I’m giving my kids the tools and skills to handle tough situations.  I’d also like to think that I’m giving my kids permission to handle things, when the smartest way to handle something is in a way that goes contrary to the everyday lessons I teach them.  Lying is wrong.  Lying to an abuser to save your skin is absolutely necessary, and it falls outside the general rule of not lying.

We do fire drills so that when a fire happens, we know where to go and what to do.  We do this so that the neural pathway is built in our brains.  So IF a fire happens, we have already run through it in our minds and we know how to handle it.  It’s more of a reflex than a decision-making time.

Same approach.

We need to take the same approach with some of the other crises that can arise.  My son knows that no one should be touching him, no one should be trying to touch him, no one should be asking to touch him.  He knows that if someone does one of those things, there is a good chance that they are going to try to get him to keep it a secret.  He knows that he in empowered to do or say whatever he feels he needs to to get through that situation.

And he knows that he should tell me.  He knows that the person will try to make him feel scared of telling him.  And that’s okay.  That no matter what they scare him with, I will handle it and that person isn’t going to hurt me.  That person is afraid of me.

And they should be.


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Once Upon A Time, in another life, Kristin graduated from the University of Michigan with a plan to teach high school math. But then, life happened when she wasn’t looking…. She married an Army guy and 23 years, 3 kids, a few dogs, 7 homes, and 2 continents later she’s now a single mom living here in Colorado Springs. Along the way she volunteered for the Army, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and several schools; managed volunteer organizations, coached judo, trained to be a whitewater rafting guide, biked down Pike’s Peak and even managed to teach some high schoolers a little math before forging new trails writing, teaching and financial planning. She never knows what’s coming around the bend, but she’s learned to handle whatever life (and the Army!), throws at her with a smile and a laugh. She’s pretty sure you can get through anything with those, even if you have to fake it occasionally!!