Child sexual abuse is a real and serious concern for all parents and caregivers. But how do we teach our children about it in an age-appropriate way?
I was recently approached by mum of 4 and author Michelle Derrig. She wanted to share her recently published children’s book ‘Only for Me’ with me and my audience. As soon as we chatted about the theme of her book, I was motivated to share it.
I’m a mum to two young girls aged 2 and 5. And like all parents, I work tirelessly to try and protect them from the dangers of the world. I also know (and lose sleep over the fact) that I can’t protect them from everything. But I can empower them through education. ‘Only for Me’ is and will continue to be a resource I use to teach my girls about protecting their body and their privacy. It gave me the power to discuss a complicated and scary topic in an age-appropriate way without frightening the girls. I definitely recommend ‘Only for Me’ to parents and carers, it needs to have a special place on your bookshelf.
I was lucky enough to have a bit of a cyber chat with Michelle about what inspired her to publish her book and the story behind her campaign. We hope you enjoy it.
What inspired you to write & publish ‘Only for Me’?
It was back in 2014 that I attended what I thought was just a typical dinner out with a group of mums! There was great food, good wine and non-stop chatting with close friends. As a stay-at-home mum to four young children, I really looked forward to adult company and socialisation. What I wasn’t expecting that night, was that two women would share experiences that would have a deep and lasting impact my life.
In the first story, 7-year-old Jake* confided in his mum as they drove home from the park, that his mate Will*(also 7) had been touching him inappropriately as they played. Jake’s mum Kylie* was shocked that this could happen whilst she had been just metres away from her son. When Kylie informed Will’s mum, she learned that several months prior to this incident, Will had been discovered accessing pornography on his iPad (and that he had been doing so over a prolonged period of time). Whilst his parents had dealt with the situation as best they could and put measures in place to make sure that Will could no longer access this destructive content – they weren’t aware that he had started to act out in response to the explicit material he had been exposed to.
The second story was similar in nature and equally shocking. *Lisa thought she was doing the right thing when she told her 9-year-old son to take his friend *Cooper to the toilets with him so that she could continue to watch her 2 younger children on the play equipment. As Lisa chatted away to Cooper’s mum she suddenly sensed that something was wrong! Sadly, in this case, her intuition was spot on. When Lisa entered the cubicle she discovered her son being abused by Cooper.
As I wrestled with these concepts and researched what information experts recommend you speak to your child about, I became inspired to write a picture book to help parents have these critical conversations with their children. I wanted ‘Only for Me’ to teach kids that they have a right to say ‘no’ to anybody.
What are some (if any) challenges you faced in writing this book?
It was a slow and meticulous process as I consulted with expert professionals, adult survivors of child abuse and countless parents.
Writing in rhyme can be challenging at the best of times but it was particularly difficult being constrained by such a confronting subject matter with very specific information to impart. It took a lot of work, however, I eventually managed to cover all the critical information.
The other main challenge, of course, was still wanting to protect children’s innocence. The use of rhyme, age-appropriate language and the clever illustrations by my friend and former Disney animator Nicole Mackenzie, all helped to successfully achieve this outcome.
Do you plan on writing more books that can help parents start a conversation about difficult topics?
Yes, I definitely plan on writing more books. Unfortunately, it will need to be a little bit down the track as I have very little time to write at present with the demands of 4 kids and the promotion and campaign work relating to Only For Me.
You’re a mother of 4, can you pass on any words of wisdom to other parents/carers about how to educate children in their care about sexual safety for everyday life?
Parents really need to understand that protective behaviour conversations are not a ‘one off’ discussion. These conversations need to evolve over time as your child grows and matures and need to be revisited as circumstances change. It’s particularly important that you revisit the top 5 adults your child can trust and ensure it stays up-to-date particularly if your child has included teachers which they may no longer have.
Respect your child’s ownership of their body in all contexts. For instance, if they are refusing to give someone a kiss or cuddle do not insist that they do so. But perhaps suggest a less intimate form of respect like a handshake or a high five.
Once your child understands what behaviours are inappropriate the next step is to teach them how to say ‘no’ and almost role-play these responses. Obviously getting them to shout a big NO and physically run from that situation is ideal. But you could also give them some other options if they feel anxious about a situation.
What should a carer do if they suspect a child may have been sexually abused?
If you are concerned about the ‘current’ sexual harm of a child you need to call the police.
However if you suspect abuse or a child has disclosed abuse, then I recommend calling Bravehearts hotline on 1800 272 831 and they will provide you with support and advice about how best to proceed to protect and support your loved one. Each state and territory has their own department responsible for receiving and responding to reports of abuse so it depends on where you live. However, Bravehearts will be able to direct you or you can view the links on my website.
Where can ‘Only for Me’ be purchased?
Only For Me can be purchased from www.onlyforme.com.au for $11.95 plus $4 postage (Australia wide). With 100% of Author Royalties being donated to Act For Kids and Bravehearts to help them continue to treat victims and prevent abuse.
What ages is ‘Only for Me’ best suited to?
Only For Me is designed for children 3 to 8 years of age.
Watch the television interview which was aired on Channel 10 here.
A little bit about the author, Michelle Derrig.
Michelle has a background in administration and marketing. For the last 12 years Michelle has been a stay-at-home mum to four children aged from 3 to 12 years of age. She lives in the southern suburbs of Sydney and volunteers her time, presenting at schools, pre-schools, churches, libraries and hospitals to raise awareness about the importance of having protective behaviour conversations with your young children.