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Sometimes the most difficult thing to do is believe our children—but we must

When children reach out about something serious, be mindful of how difficult it is for them to come to us.

Sometimes the most difficult thing to do is believe our children—but we must

After seven days of statements and testimony from more than 150 sexual abuse survivors, Larry Nassar, the former team doctor for the U.S. gymnastics team, was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison. Here is what we learned from the women’s testimony: Many of the accusers were minors, as young as 6 years old, at the time of the assaults. Most of the women were gymnasts but they also included dancers, rowers and runners. Some of those who shared their experiences are well-known and medal-winning Olympians, such as Simone Biles, Aly Raisman and Gabby Douglas. All told, their stories reflect a pattern of abuse that took place for decades.

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One of the striking themes of their collective testimony is that when some of the women—many of whom were girls at the time—told adults in their lives (e.g. parents and coaches) the adults were hesitant to believe the girls and as a result, didn’t do anything to address the reported abuse.

Further, the U.S.A. Gymnastics Team and Michigan State University, where Nassar was employed, did not report their concerns.

“Over those 30 years when survivors came forward, adult after adult, many in positions of authority, protected you, telling each survivor it was okay, that you weren’t abusing them. In fact, many adults had you convince the survivors that they were being dramatic or had been mistaken.” - Aly Raisman

“I reported it. Michigan State University, the school I loved and trusted, had the audacity to tell me that I did not understand the difference between sexual assault and a medical procedure.” - Amanda Thomashow

Beyond the devastating impact of the abuse on these young people, including a range of psychological effects like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), family issues, anxiety, depression, intimacy issues, body image issues, shame, guilt and suicidal thoughts, what can we learn from the courageous testimony we heard from the survivors?

What we can learn from this disturbing, long pattern is that adults must listen to children and take them seriously. When children come to us, share their experiences and reach out about something serious (e.g. bullying, bias, harassment, sexual assault, etc.), it is important to be mindful of how difficult it probably is for them to come to us in the first place.

While many young people might have an intuitive understanding that what is happening to them is wrong, they may not have the exact words or full understanding. That’s why they need supportive adults’ assurance when facing difficult, challenging or traumatic experiences.

They need our reassurance that they did the right thing in bringing this to our attention. And they need to know that we will listen, respect them and do something.

Acknowledge the courage it took for them to come forward

When a young person comes to you about a difficult and disturbing experience, let them know how important it is that they came to you. Thank them for telling you and acknowledge that it might have been hard for them to share this information. Recognize their bravery in coming to you and remember that young people do not routinely ask for help, so this is a big step.

Take them seriously

Never belittle any serious incident like this—whether it’s a one-time occurrence or something that’s been happening for a while. Don’t question that it happened or their motives in telling you. Be sure to give young people the time to tell you everything they want and need to share through active listening. That conveys that you are taking them seriously, that you care and that you will take action.

Listen and allow them to express their feelings

Young people may have a range of sometimes conflicting feelings about incidents like these including fear, sadness, rage, numbness, guilt, shame, etc. They may need to cry, shout, be silent, take a walk or something else. Allowing them to express their feelings and not judging those emotions conveys acceptance.

Encourage them by asking open-ended questions and don’t ask for a lot of details until they have gotten their feelings out. When asking for details, be open and honest at the onset if you are a mandated reporter and therefore there are certain issues that you have to report to the proper authorities.

Be proactive, talk about next steps and get them help

After providing time for them to share their feelings, explain to them what you need to do in terms of reporting the incident and getting them help. Explain the process and the next steps you will take; and get their buy-in for the (ideally) co-constructed plan. In serious cases, remember that youth get a vote, but not a veto, in the next steps—especially when mandated reporting is required.

Be discreet and whenever possible, maintain confidentiality and be clear with them who you need to tell and why. Follow the appropriate school, local, and/or state procedures for any given incident and if you don’t know what that is, ask your school’s administration. In addition to following your school's policies, is important for adults to provide young people with appropriate counseling and crisis resources.

Similar to bullying and sexual harassment in schools, these incidents often go unreported in part because the adults in children's lives are unapproachable or address the situation ineffectively. And when bias, bullying, hate, harassment and abuse are reported, sometimes young people's experiences are dismissed or belittled and therefore, not taken seriously.

As Olympian Aly Raisman so eloquently stated, we hope to create a world where children “will never ever have to say the words, ‘me too.” Taking children seriously and listening to them is an integral step in that process.

Reprinted with permission from Listening to and Believing Children,” ADL Education Blog, January 25, 2018. All rights reserved.

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    These challenges from Nike PLAYlist are exactly what my child needs to stay active

    Plus a fall family bucket list to keep everyone moving all season long.

    While it's hard to name anything that the pandemic hasn't affected, one thing that is constantly on my mind is how to keep my family active despite spending more time indoors. Normally, this time of year would be spent at dance and gymnastics lessons, meeting up with friends for games and field trips, and long afternoon playdates where we can all let off a little steam. Instead, we find ourselves inside more often than ever before—and facing down a long winter of a lot more of the same.

    I started to search for an outlet that would get my girls moving safely while we social distance, but at first I didn't find a lot of solutions. Online videos either weren't terribly engaging for my active kids, or the messaging wasn't as positive around the power of movement as I would like. Then I found the Nike PLAYlist.

    I always knew that Nike could get me moving, but I was so impressed to discover this simple resource for parents. PLAYlist is an episodic sports show on YouTube that's made for kids and designed to teach them the power of expressing themselves through movement. The enthusiastic kid hosts immediately captured my daughter's attention, and I love how the physical activity is organically incorporated in fun activities without ever being specifically called out as anything other than play. For example, this segment where the kids turn yoga into a game of Paper Scissors Rock? Totally genius. The challenges from #TheReplays even get my husband and me moving more when our daughter turns it into a friendly family competition. (Plus, I love the play-inspired sportswear made just for kids!)

    My daughter loves the simple Shake Ups at the beginning of the episode and is usually hopping off the couch to jump, dance and play within seconds. One of her favorites is this Sock Flinger Shake Up activity from the Nike PLAYlist that's easy for me to get in on too. Even after we've put away the tablet, the show inspires her to create her own challenges throughout the day.

    The best part? The episodes are all under 5 minutes, so they're easy to sprinkle throughout the day whenever we need to work out some wiggles (without adding a lot of screen time to our schedule).

    Whether you're looking for simple alternatives to P.E. and sports or simply need fun ways to help your child burn off energy after a day of socially distanced school, Nike's PLAYlist is a fun, kid-friendly way to get everyone moving.

    Need more movement inspiration for fall? Here are 5 ways my family is getting up and getting active this season:

    1. Go apple picking.

    Truly, it doesn't really feel like fall until we've picked our first apple. (Or had our first bite of apple cider donut!) Need to burn off that extra cinnamon-sugar energy? Declare a quick relay race up the orchard aisle—winner gets first to pick of apples at home.

    To wear: These Printed Training Tights are perfect for when even a casual walk turns into a race (and they help my daughter scurry up a branch for the big apples).

    2. Visit a pumpkin patch.

    We love to pick up a few locally grown pumpkins to decorate or cook with each year. Challenge your child to a "strongman" contest and see who can lift the heaviest pumpkin while you're there.

    To wear: Suit up your little one in comfort with this Baby Full Zip Coverall so you're ready for whatever adventures the day brings.

    3. Have a nature scavenger hunt.

    Scavenger hunts are one of my favorite ways to keep my daughter preoccupied all year long. We love to get outside and search for acorns, leaves and pinecones as part of our homeschool, but it's also just a great way to get her exercising those gross motor skills whenever the wiggles start to build up.

    To wear: It's not truly fall until you break out a hoodie. This cozy Therma Elite Kids Hoodie features a mesh overlay to release heat while your child plays.

    4. Have a touch-football game.

    Tip for parents with very little kids: It doesn't have to last as long as a real football game. 😂 In fact, staging our own mini-games is one of our favorite ways to get everyone up and moving in between quarters during Sunday football, and I promise we all sleep better that night.

    To wear: From impromptu games of tag to running through our favorite trails, these kids' Nike Air Zoom Speed running shoes are made to cover ground all season long.

    5. Create an indoor obstacle course.

    Pretending the floor is lava was just the beginning. See how elaborate your personal course can get, from jumping on the couch to rolling under the coffee table to hopping down the hallway on one foot.

    To wear: These ready-for-any-activity Dri-FIT Tempo Shorts are perfect for crawling, hopping and racing—and cuddling up when it's time to rest.

    This article was sponsored by Nike. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

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    Tips parents need to know about poor air quality and caring for kids with asthma

    There are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

    When wildfires struck the West Coast in September 2020, there was a lot for parents to worry about. For parents of children with asthma, though, the danger could be even greater. "There are more than 400 toxins that are present in wildfire smoke. That can activate the immune system in ways that aren't helpful by both causing an inflammatory response and distracting the immune system from fighting infection," says Amy Oro, MD, a pediatrician at Stanford Children's Health. "When smoke enters into the lungs, it causes irritation and muscle spasms of the smooth muscle that is around the small breathing tubes in the lungs. This can lead to difficulty with breathing and wheezing. It's really difficult on the lungs."

    With the added concern of COVID-19 and the effect it can have on breathing, many parents feel unsure about how to keep their children protected. The good news is that there are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

    Here are tips parents need to know about how to deal with poor air quality when your child has asthma.

    Minimize smoke exposure.

    Especially when the air quality index reaches dangerous levels, it's best to stay indoors as much as possible. You can find out your area's AQI at AirNow.gov. An under 50 rating is the safest, but between 100-150 is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as children with asthma. "If you're being told to stay indoors, listen. If you can, keep the windows and doors closed," Oro says.

    Do your best to filter the air.

    According to Oro, a HEPA filter is your best bet to effectively clean pollutants from the air. Many homes are equipped with a built-in HEPA filter in their air conditioning systems, but you can also get a canister filter. Oro says her family (her husband and children all suffer from asthma) also made use of a hack from the New York Times and built their own filter by duct taping a HEPA furnace filter to the front of a box fan. "It was pretty disgusting what we accumulated in the first 20 hours in our fan," she says.

    Avoid letting your child play outside or overly exert themselves in open air.

    "Unfortunately, cloth masks don't do very much [to protect you from the smoke pollution]," Oro says. "You really need an N95 mask, and most of those have been allocated toward essential workers." To keep at-risk children safer, Oro recommends avoiding brisk exercise outdoors. Instead, set up an indoor obstacle course or challenge your family to jumping jacks periodically to keep everyone moving safely.

    Know the difference between smoke exposure and COVID-19.

    "COVID-19 can have a lot of the same symptoms—dry cough, sore throat, shortness of breath and chest pain could overlap. But what COVID and other viruses generally cause are fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea and body aches. Those would tell you it's not just smoke exposure," Oro says. When a child has been exposed to smoke, they often complain of a "scrape" in their throat, burning eyes, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain or wheezing. If the child has asthma, parents should watch for a flare of symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing or a tight sensation in their chest.

    Unfortunately, not much is known about long-term exposure to wildfire smoke on a healthy or compromised immune system, but elevated levels of air pollution have been associated with increased COVID-19 rates. That's because whenever there's an issue with your immune system, it distracts your immune system from fighting infections and you have a harder time fighting off viruses. Limiting your exposure to wildfire smoke is your best bet to keep immune systems strong.

    Have a plan in place if you think your child is suffering from smoke exposure.

    Whatever type of medication your child takes for asthma, make sure you have it on-hand and that your child is keeping up with regular doses. Contact your child's pediatrician, especially if your area has a hazardous air quality—they may want to adjust your child's medication schedule or dosage to prevent an attack. Oro also recommends that, if your child has asthma, it might be helpful to have a stethoscope or even a pulse oximeter at home to help diagnose issues with your pediatrician through telehealth.

    Most importantly, don't panic.

    In some cases, social distancing and distance learning due to COVID may be helping to keep sensitive groups like children with asthma safer. Oro says wildfires in past years have generally resulted in more ER visits for children, but the most recent fires haven't seen the same results. "A lot of what we've seen is that the smoke really adversely affects adults, especially older adults over 65," Oro says. "Children tend to be really resilient."

    This article was sponsored by Stanford Children's Health. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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