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Over the last few years I have worked with an incredible sexual abuse prevention team.


They provide training for schools, community centers, and governmental organizations, help families out of tragic situations, and provide counseling to victims. The work they do both turns your stomach to lead and lights a fire in your heart – it is unspeakable tragedy but there IS hope.

They have opened my eyes to how every single person in the world can either add to a culture of child sexual abuse, or dismantle it. Our very words can help prevent children from abuse.

Here are a few phrases I’ve learned from them:

“That’s your vulva!”

We mustn’t let our natural prudishness around anatomical terms for private parts get in the way of our children’s knowledge about their body.

It does take some getting used to, but after a few awkward hiccups my family and I have become proud members of Team Vulva for several reasons!

Prevention specialist with the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, Laura Palumbo, explains how children who know and use the correct anatomical terms discourages perpetrators. In the event of abuse, knowing the correct anatomical terms helps children and adults navigate the disclosure and forensic interview process.

It can help to explain to those close to you your motivation for using these terms. Particularly as it is inevitable that your toddler will eloquently ask Nana, “Do you have a penis or a vulva?” at the dinner table.

“Stop.”

We teach our children that STOP is a serious, red light word that will be listened to by everyone.

When our children are at play and someone says STOP we will intervene to make sure it is honored. When we are wrestling or tickling, if our children say STOP, even through their giggles, we will immediately cease. They nearly always scream GO! a few seconds later but meanwhile they are discovering that only they get to say what happens to their bodies, and if they are not comfortable with something, their STOP is meaningful.

When we stop kissing, tickling, and cuddling when our children request it we are empowering them in that moment. However, it also acts as practice, a role playing, for if something more serious occurs. They are well versed in saying STOP to someone bigger and more powerful than them and they will feel able to use it when it really counts.

“No secrets.”

We don’t have secrets in our family, just surprises. Surprises differ from secrets as they are things that are kept quiet momentarily, and revealed to everyone in time.

The term “secret” comes up again and again in the stories of child sexual abuse victims. A culture of secrecy is one of the foundations that perpetrators require and seek to establish.

Make it your aim that the word “secret” rings alarm bells in your children’s ears. Remind them constantly that “we don’t have secrets!” and that if anyone ever shares a secret with them that their mom or dad get to hear it, too.

“Did you feel safe?”

In this powerful blog post a mother, herself a victim of sexual abuse, describes how when she was a child her own mother used to meet her after a party and, in front of her perpetrator, ask her if she was a good girl, if she did as she was told.

We need to change the way we talk to our children after events.

Ask if they felt comfortable. If they felt safe. If they had any bad bits.

Of course, these questions have to happen as part of a whole conversation where they get to tell you about the chocolate cake fight, and the boy who hilariously strung party hats all over his whole body and chased the dog.

If we strive to keep open channels of communication with our children we can ask them, “Did you feel safe?” knowing we will get an honest answer.

“High five, wave, or hug?”

Lucy Emmerson, of the Sex Education Forum, suggests that children shouldn’t be forced to kiss relatives as it’s important for children to learn that their bodies are their own.

Instead of saying, “Kiss Aunty goodbye!” ask how your child might like to say goodbye. It might be with nothing, a smile, a wave, a high five, a hug. I am a huge advocate that children must never be forced to show affection, yet our children almost always opt for full blown hugs and kisses. I guess this is because they tend to love all the people we hang out with, and they see us willingly showing affection to them. However, they know that only they get a say on what happens to their bodies. They know they will never be forced.

Every so often there is a little awkward moment but I simply let it be, and then call the relative later and explain how important it is that children know their bodies are their own.

I live in a country where one in three girls are sexually abused by the time they are 16. I am willing to put up with a little awkwardness if it protects them from becoming a tragic statistic.

Will you consider adopting these phrases in your family? Do so and know you are doing your bit to create a world where children can thrive.

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I had big plans to be a "good mom" this summer. There were going to be chore charts, reading goals, daily letter writing practice, and cursive classes. There would be no screen time until the beds were made, and planned activities for each day of the week.

Today was the first day of summer vacation and our scheduled beach day. But here's what we did instead: Lounged in our pj's until 11 am, baked the girl's pick, chocolate chip cookie brownies, started an art project we never finished, then moved to the pool.

It's so easy to be pressured by things we see on social. Ways to challenge our kids and enrich their summer. But let's be real—we're all tired. Tired of chores, tired of schedules and places to be, tired of pressure, and tired of unrealistic expectations.

So instead of a schedule, we're doing nothing this summer. Literally NOTHING.

No camps. No classes, and no curriculums.

Instead, we're going to see where each day takes us. I've dubbed this the "Summer of Me," so workouts and clean eating are a priority for me. And also giving our girls the freedom to pick what they want to do.

We may go to a local pool and check out the swimming programs. And we join the local YMCA. But whatever we do—it will be low key.

It will include family time, too much TV, a few trips, lots of sunshine, some new roller skates, water balloons, plenty of boredom, rest, relaxation, and reading. (Because mama likes to read!)

So if you haven't figured out what you're doing this summer, you're not alone. And guess what? It's OKAY! Your kids will be fine and so will you.

Originally posted on Kristen Hewitt's blog. Check out her post on 30 ways to have fun doing almost nothing this summer.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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When we consider all the skills our kids will need to succeed in the future, what comes to mind? Perhaps creativity, tech skills, or an excellent understanding of math might be at the top of many parents' lists. Social-emotional skills, like empathy, compassion, or the ability to understand another person's viewpoint may not be the ones you thought of right away, but deep down you know they matter.

We've all had those co-workers who didn't know how to listen to our ideas or friends who couldn't compromise with others. We know that in the work world and in our personal life, emotional skills are key to developing and maintaining healthy relationships.

If you are the parent of a toddler, you know that young children are inherently self-centered. It's not some faulty aspect of their character or a misstep of parenting skills. Young children simply do not have the brain maturity to consider another person's perspective or needs just yet—their brain physically is not ready to handle that kind of mental work.

However, child development research shows us that we can do a few things along the developmental path to help foster social-emotional skills in our kids. With a little help from us, our kids' brains can develop with meaningful connections that tune them into the feelings of others.

Here's how:

1. Treat others how you want your kids to treat others.

How we talk to our kids becomes their internal dialogue. We know from research that this goes for emotional skills as well. A recent study showed that when parents talk to their kids more about how other people might be feeling, the kids had better perspective-taking abilities—the ability to see a situation from another person's point of view.

This, of course, is the basis of many emotional skills, especially empathy. Just by talking about another person's feelings, kids begin to develop those crucial brain connections that help them develop empathy.

It's worth pointing out that very young children under ages 3-4 do not have the brain maturity to really understand another person's perspective. They lack a crucial skill that psychologists call Theory of Mind, meaning they can't understand the mind of another person.

However, our urgings and thoughtful phrasing to point out how another person might be feeling can only help them down this developmental path. Then, once their little brain matures, they will be in the habit of hearing and understanding the feelings of others.

2. Model positive emotional behavior in daily life.

It's probably not surprising to learn that how we react to our kids' feelings influences their emotional development. When your child gets upset, do you get angry or ruffled by their big emotions? We are all human, of course, so sometimes our kids' emotions are the exact triggers that fuel our big feelings, too. However, if we can remain the calm in the emotional storm for our kids, their development will benefit. Through modeling emotional regulation, over time our kids will learn how to self-regulate as well.

One study, in fact, showed that toddlers whose parents exhibited anger or over-reacted to tantrums were likely to have more tantrums and negative emotionality by the end of the study. However, the opposite dynamic can happen, too. Parents who model firm, but calm emotional regulation help their kids learn these skills as well.

3. Don’t be afraid to show your emotions.

Many times, we feel that one of our main jobs as a parent is to protect our children from the big, often overwhelming emotions of adults. For instance, we try not to break down crying or become red-faced with anger in front of our kids. It just feels too big for them to handle and perhaps not developmentally appropriate.

As they mature, however, older kids are able to handle a bit more discussion and expression of honest emotions. Have you noticed that kids usually pick up on the fact that you are upset even if you try to hide it? Kids are naturally curious and, many times, very sensitive to the emotional tenor at home. If they are developmentally ready, this can be a good time to have more discussions about emotions and how to handle them.

For example, my 9-year-old is playing a lot of baseball this summer and always wants me to pitch to him so he can practice batting. Now, I am not a very skilled player so my pitches often go off course or are too weak. He had gotten in the habit of correcting my pitching or (more likely) complaining about it every time we played.

After repeated experiences with this, I was not only annoyed but it also sort of hurt my feelings—so I finally told him how I felt. Guess what? His behavior at practice time changed dramatically! The mere fact of him realizing that his mom has feelings too really made him think about his words more carefully.

These types of interaction can become part of your "emotion coaching." It may sound silly but it can make a big impact for kids, especially as they grow older and are more able to really understand the emotional lesson. On some level, it's nice that our kids think we are superheroes, but it's also crucial that they understand that we are still human, with real feelings.

The magic of helping our kids develop empathy doesn't happen in well-planned lessons or elaborate activities. The real magic happens in the small, simple interactions and discussions we have with our kids each day.

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Sometimes it can feel like you never get a minute to even finish a thought—let alone a to-do list. When your day is packed with caretaking, your own needs get pushed back. So when you finally get to lie down at the end of the day, all those thoughts are waiting for you. While we haven't figured out the secret to keeping you from over-analyzing every.single.thing. (sorry, mama!), we do believe you must carve out time for you. Because that rest is just as important—and you've certainly earned it.

XO,

#TeamMotherly

PS: We spoke to Jessica Alba and she gave us the lowdown on why she stopped breastfeeding, and Nordstrom is having their anniversary sale until August 5th. Here's everything we want!

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