How to Talk to Them about Why You're Walking
We encourage “whole family” participation (including your canine companions!) in the annual Walk for Change. Although the topic—ending sexual violence—is serious, our event is fun and festive. We want every member of the family, from infants to older teens, to feel comfortable and welcome.
That said, you are the best judge of whether this event is right for your child. Some parents aren’t sure how to explain the purpose of the Walk to their children. Others fear that they won’t know how to appropriately answer any questions that may arise. We hope you’ll find our guide to talking about the Walk for Change with children in age-appropriate ways to be helpful.
Children under age five
Children under five typically do not need a lot of detail. They often like that everyone is in matching T-shirts. They take great pleasure in seeing all of the dogs, in being outside, and participating in activities like face painting. Participating with your young child, though, is a great opportunity to share important messages (more on how to build healthy ideas about sexuality here):
- “We are going to the Walk for Change because it helps people, and our family likes to do that.”
- “Just like I have told you that no one should touch your body if you are not okay with it, it is so important to me that everyone knows that their body is respected. This Walk reminds everybody about that.”
- “Some people are not very good at respecting other people’s bodies. I don’t think that is okay for anyone to do that and this Walk is for people to show that they agree.”
Children 5–10 years old
Children in this age range often ask specific questions. They may ask a question about something said by one of the speakers. Or they may have questions about the posters. It is very important to use clear and accurate language when talking to children about their bodies. (You can read more about using accurate language and talking with children about sexual abuse here and here.)
If your child asks about something said by a speaker who is a survivor, one way to explain what the speaker is talking about is to answer:
“They are letting us know that someone hurt them, and that’s why we came to the Walk for Change: to give them our support.”
If your child wants to know how someone was hurt, one way to answer with more specifics:
“BARCC helps people who have been sexually assaulted. This could mean that someone hurt them or touched them in their penis or vagina when they didn't want to be touched. No one should ever be touched when they don't want to be, and it can be very upsetting. Coming to the Walk for Change is how we tell everyone that we don’t think it is okay for people to hurt other people.”
Children approximately 10 to preteen
In this age group, your prior conversations about relationships, sex, violence, and openness to talk will guide the depth of the conversation. Your child may have experienced sexual assault themselves or know someone who has (check out a good resource on that). Additionally, children in this age group may be more likely to ask if they know anyone who has experienced sexual assault. Here are some suggested ways to talk about the Walk with your preteens:
- “Do you want to come with me to BARCC’s Walk for Change this year? I want to support the services they provide to people who have been sexually assaulted. Let me know what questions you have about it, and I can register you if you want to go.”
- “Lots of people think that people are assaulted by strangers but a lot of times it is someone they know, even a friend that might be close to their same age or someone in their family. That is confusing, and people need a lot of support. One way to give that support is by going to the Walk for Change.”
- “Sometimes people can feel that they are supposed to feel ashamed even though they were not the ones who did something wrong. When we are at the Walk for Change, we let everyone know that we do not think they need to feel ashamed.”
- “When someone is sexually assaulted, they sometimes don’t tell anyone because they feel so embarrassed. BARCC has the Walk for Change to let people who might feel embarrassed know that they can talk to anyone at BARCC because BARCC is there to support them.”
- “In our family, we believe everyone should be treated equally and with respect. Coming to the Walk for Change is one way we spread that message.”
Adolescents can handle more mature, sophisticated responses than younger children. Many of the teens who work with BARCC report that the following qualities signal to them that they can talk to an adult:
- Calm response
- Acknowledgment that every teen is unique
On the topic of sexual violence, talking to adolescents as potential active bystanders (and not as potential survivors or offenders) can help them to feel more comfortable in the conversation and to feel that they have positive, proactive roles to take in their schools and with their friends.
Young survivors: If the young person you love has experienced sexual violence, there may be even more things to consider before attending the Walk. Similarly, If you are a survivor, you may have questions about whether or not to tell your child about your experience and when to do so. BARCC is here to support you in talking through your individual situation. Learning how to talk about sexual violence among family members is an important part of the healing process for many survivors.
If you are a survivor: Deciding to disclose a personal experience to your child or a child you love can bring up a lot of feelings for everyone. BARCC’s services can help you decide whether or not disclosing is right for you at this time. Disclosing this about yourself or someone else is something to give some thought to. Most parents take a long time to make these decisions to weigh the issues of personal privacy with other factors that are important to them, including not wanting their child to worry about them. They may also want their child to know that it’s okay to talk about these experiences because they are nothing to be ashamed of. Others may want to help their children understand that sexual violence is real and that they want them to have respectful boundaries. Many parents, especially as their children get older, want their children to know that they can trust their parents if something should ever happen to them. These are all important factors to consider, and our counselors can help you clarify your goals and expectations, and make a game plan.
Our 24-hour hotline is always available at 800-841-8371. To inquire about a counseling appointment, please call our office at 617-492-8306 or request an appointment.