Combating societal ideals that promote abusive behaviors must begin with the foundation of our future: children. Often, the messages parents, the media, and other adults communicate to children explicitly and implicitly help contribute to a society that further perpetuates abuse and domestic abuse.

Maintaining open lines of communication, problematizing stereotypes, and pushing yourself to understand abuse more are just a few of the ways you can promote healthy understandings of consent, relationships, and gender. Always determined to direct you towards subtle, daily acts of domestic abuse prevention, HAWC has compiled 4 ways you can build a better future free from abuse with the children in your lives.

  1. Respect boundaries. Often, adults expect children to follow their orders. In many cases, this is simply to ease children into a society with social rules and regulations, but forcing a child to hug or kiss everyone at a holiday gathering reinforces harmful ideas regarding the value and importance of “no” when it comes to boundaries around their bodies. Try to avoid disrespecting or ignoring a child’s limits: if they say they do not want to do something, find other solution. For example, if a child does not feel comfortable hugging or kissing a family member, settle for a high five or a handshake. This way, from a young age, children can feel that their boundaries are deserving of respect and that their “no” can be heard.
  2. Promote healthy, curious child development. Children are born as clean slates: over time and with experience, their ideas about how the world operates are formed. Take a moment to read and understand more about child development and the ways in which humans question and explore the world from a young age. Recognize when a child’s sexual curiosity is natural and harmless, and when it should concern you. When the child begins by asking about the world around them, be honest. Teach your children the real names for body parts and avoid euphemisms that promote an attitude of shame around bodies, masturbation, or sex. Create a relationship that allows children to ask you questions that may seem uncomfortable. Remain calm, respectful, and accurate in the message you send your child or children in your care. In doing this, you ensure that your children can report to you in clear, confident terms if and when they experience something uncomfortable. You also ensure that they will be able to properly identify their physical limits and respect the physical limits of the people around them.
  3. Give the child proper credit. Adults assume that children are incapable of handling serious or confusing information. By shielding children from challenging conversations, you prevent them from being able to think more complexly about the world around them. Do not be afraid to discuss issues of gender, consent, or sexuality from an early age. Help your child understand the concept of stereotyping, and explain the ways in which society’s ideals can hurt a particular group. Help them question the media they are exposed to by starting these discussions around the shows, games, or commercials they consume.
  4. Let them know you believe them. Before a child experiences anything that might make them uncomfortable, make sure they know that you will always be on their side: help them to understand that they are not ever responsible for the bad things that may happen to them, and that your role in their life is to keep them safe. Guide them to other adults who they can talk to if you’re not available.

In learning how to parent for a change, consider the many children witnessing and experiencing abuse around the world. Without the opportunities to grow, develop, and play in a safe and nurturing environment, these children face higher risks of experiencing or perpetuating abuse in their adulthood. To help aid HAWC clients with children and end this cycle of violence, donate to HAWC’s Children Fund today.