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Encouraging Healthy Sexual Boundaries In the Foster Home

SHERYL OVERBY  MS  NCC  LIMHP  www.sheryloverby.com

Woodhaven Counseling Associates  402-592-0328

All humans have to learn boundaries, either by modeling or teaching in early childhood; it simply is not something hardwired into the brain.  It would be nice if all the youth who come to your home had good boundaries, but chances are, you will have some work to do.    Since part of the definition of healthy sexuality is that it happens in private, most children and teens simply do not know that there is anything other than what they have seen in their history or via our current American sexualized culture.  Families are the perfect place to offer an alternative and healthy view of sexuality.  Here are my best tips on how to help the kids in your home.

#1 Create an Atmosphere of Sexual Respect

Sexual Respect

  1. Do not allow suggestive or obscene language from anyone of any age. This includes sexual innuendos and jokes that creates the message that sex is an everyday thing.
  2. Do all you can to avoid objectification, which is seeing a person as an object, most typically a sexual object.
  3. Sexually explicit materials such photos, videos, catalogs, music, computer games or TV programs should be completely eliminated from the household, and the garage, and underneath the seat in your truck.
  4. Reinforce healthy messages like: “every person, young and old, deserves to have their body respected and sex is a great and wonderful thing for adults, when they think and think about when to share their bodies” or “sex can be a special way to connect to another person, but now is not the time for you”.
  5. It is difficult to traverse the wide gap between clothing fashion trends and sexual respect, but you gotta try. It is important for both girls and boys to know a) That even if a girl wears something sexually provocative, it does not give anyone the right to abuse her AND b) That boys (especially age 11-14) have erections at seeing even the slightest bit of cleavage and the girls can help them out by not wearing sexually provocative clothing AND c) That even if something is in style, it is not allowed if it contributes to the objectification of that person, male or female.

Sex Education

  1. All children need basic information about how they develop sexually. Make sure they have an age appropriate book that they can keep in their room and look at any time to answer their questions about sex.
  2. They also will benefit from an atmosphere in which it is OK to talk about sex, but you will have to bring up the subject often so they know it is OK to talk about it. Sometimes, you will be the one doing all the talking.
  3. Appropriate words for body parts, such as penis, vagina, breasts, and buttocks, will give the youth helpful words to use to describe themselves, especially if they have to talk about sexual activity or sexual abuse.

Saying NO

  1. Youth need to learn that they have the right to assertively say “no” when someone touches them ANY WHERE or in ANY WAY they do not like. Help them to practice this with peers, siblings and adults.
  2. A youth should NEVER be pressured into touching someone or showing affection if they are not comfortable.
  3. For teenagers, both young women and young men need to know that NO MEANS NO.
  4. Remind everyone that all sexual activity is consented by both parties every single time, even between a couple who has been together for years and years. Both parties have the freedom to say yes, and both parties have the freedom to say no.

 

#2 New Rules to Prevent Future Problems

Being Alone With One Other Person

  1. If your youth has problematic sexual behaviors or if they behave seductively or aggressively, they need direct supervision! This means they are never alone with another child and sometimes this includes older children and other adults.
  2. You may need to be able to both SEE and HEAR everything your youth does and says when they are with others. This eliminates any anxiety when confused or ambivalent about the intent of a behavior.
  3. Consult a therapist to decide the supervision needs of a child with a history of sexual abuse. Some youth need very little, others need very firm limits and structure.
  4. The goal of supervision is to have “in the moment coaching” for problem solving, social skills and to help them manage feelings.
  5. Siblings are not allowed to provide supervision; this alters the family dynamic and creates an unhealthy balance among siblings that could facilitate additional problems.
  6. Remember, children do not need “foreplay” in order to have a desire for sexual behavior, it only takes a child about 12 seconds to invade another child’s boundary or body.

Touching

  1. All children need NON SEXUAL touch. If a youth’s only form of affection in the past has been via sexuality, they will need to learn how to show and receive affection in non-sexual ways again and again, and again.
  2. Do not be afraid to touch your child or teen, however, it is advised that the touching be interruptible or observable. Please consult with the youth’s therapist to identify what types of touch will be the most helpful.
  3. Help your youth learn the appropriate use of all different types of healthy touch. They include: affection, brotherly love, comfort, friendship, encouragement, comradery, greetings, praise, nurturing and playfulness.
  4. Be cautious about wrestling and tickling, as common as these behaviors are, they are often tinged with sexual overtones and can put a younger child in a weak or humiliating position.
  5. Do not allow other children to sit on the lap of a youth with sexualized behavior.
  6. Adults in the home should also show NON SEXUAL affection towards each other in front of the children (hugging, holding hands, light kissing). They can learn that affection is a part of sexual activity, but not always, and there is a way for a couple to show affection in public that is NON SEXUAL.

Privacy

  1. Everyone has a right to privacy. All the youth in your home should be taught to knock when a door is closed and adults need to role model the same behavior. Modesty is the best policy.
  2. Young people also deserve to have privacy with their thoughts, feelings, personal belongings, personal space and time.
  3. Children and teens who have been abused or who have sexually harmed another person deserve the right to privacy when determining who needs to know about their history.
  4. Don’t forget that adults need privacy too, especially if engaged in sexual activity. Lock the bedroom door always and make sure children cannot hear sexually related noises.  This is extremely overwhelming and arousing for a youth who may not have a healthy understanding of sexuality.
  5. In general, it is recommended that youth who are already confused about sexuality have separate bedrooms and bathroom time. Every child needs a place and time when they can be alone and have personal time.
  6. If a youth is scared at night, work out a plan to help them feel safe without sleeping in bed with another person.
  7. Post and enforce the list of PRIVACY RULES for children and older youth; see handout attached.

#3 Interrupt Patterns of Unhealthy Sexual Behavior

Manage Arousal

  1. Help children and teens differentiate between feelings and behaviors. It is normal to have all kinds of feelings, including sexual feelings.  However, everyone does not always act on all the feelings he or she has.
  2. Remember girls gets just as aroused as boys, it’s just not visible. Both boys and girls need to understand what is happening in their bodies and to know how they should react.
  3. Some children and teens need very specific instructions on how to distract themselves when aroused and how to decide when it’s OK or not OK to touch themselves or masturbate.
  4. Youth who have been sexually abused may have trauma related flashbacks associated with arousal. It is very important to change this pattern if they are to have a healthy sex life with a partner as an adult.  Please seek the assistance of a therapist if you think this is happening.
  5. If a child (before puberty) is touching their own private parts, it is for very different reasons than a teen or adult due to the lack of hormones and sex drive. I prefer the term “self touch” rather than “masturbation”.
  6. Young children really benefit from having relaxing activities or physical activities that will change the body’s arousal pattern. Give them a list of things that they can do without permission.
  7. Both children and teens need to know the dos and don’ts regarding touching themselves, proper hygiene and how to properly care for the private parts of their bodies.
  8. Helping your child with arousal will go along way to prevent child on child sexual assault or problematic sexual beheavior (psb).

 

Understand that sexuality fills an emotional void; then fill that void in non-sexual ways

  1. Need for love and belonging. Help each youth create connections with adults in non-sexual ways, so they feel attachment and caring from others. Remember that sexuality imitates the feeling of closeness and love in the brain.  Many kids in foster care are horribly lonely; but convince themselves that they don’t need friends.
  2. Need to feel competent.  Help the kids in your home find something they are good at and encourage them. Help them fit in with at least one friend or join a club or team with a shared activity.
  3. Need for comfort when upset or stressed. Many children’s first choice of comfort is self-touch, please help them learn other ways to comfort themselves without feeling shame or embarrassment.
  4. Need for power. A person who has been abused will naturally want to compensate my controlling something else.  Give your youth something to be “in charge of” and ask for their advice regarding this subject. Teach the appropriate use of drawing straws, taking turns and rotating responsibilities so the foster youth have equal power with other siblings.
  5. Need for play and fun. Playing and having fun is one of the best ways to release stress or simply enjoy yourself.  The second best way to release stress and enjoy yourself (at least for adults) is by having sex.
  6. Need for sensory pleasure. Let’s face it, sex feels good, your body feels good and your brain is filled with endorphins.  But there are other ways to also get pleasure through the senses.
  7. Need for affection. Sometimes the need for affection is directly confused with feeling aroused and what the youth actually needs is nurturing or cuddling.  This is a little tricky in a foster home setting, as cuddling may be confused for sexual intentions and advice from a therapist or service provider is recommended.
  8. Need to avoid feeling intense pain. Being pre-occupied with sexuality fills the empty spaces in your brain so you don’t have to think about the pain in your life. Help the youth find other ways to fill this space with hobbies or other interests; better yet, help them learn to tolerate the pain in small doses and express emotions in healthy ways.
  9. Need to feel safe. In order for a child to develop emotionally, they must feel physically and emotionally safe. That means there is no threat of further abuse, shame or guilt.  Sexuality can become a coping skill by manipulating others; which also protects the youth from feeling vulnerable or weak.

Stop/Limit use of Pornography

  1. Computer and internet time should be monitored to the best of your ability. Remember, the youth has more time, energy and motivation to break through the parental controls software than the parent has to maintain it.
  2. The absolute best defense is your relationship with the youth in your home, not punishments. Talk, teach, coach, and help your youth manage what they are exposed to on the internet and how to interact with others in safe and healthy ways.
  3. Girls are just as likely to get involved in pornography as boys. In my experience, boys tend to search for porn online and girls tend to find it by accident.  But once they get exposed, they can’t resist wanting to see more.
  4. Please be willing to talk to them about what happens online and in social media, or find someone who will.
  5. 93% of teens use the internet every day and 24% use it “almost constantly”. It’s almost a full time job to manage the social media the youth in your home will have access to.  Even if it’s only via friends’ phones and the internet at school. So, welcome to your new hobby.
  6. Be informed about Cyber-bullying and sexting, which are both much more common than sexual predators online. This directly ties into emotional needs as described above.
  7. It’s a whole new world. Studies in 2013 found that 59% of children are using social networking by age 10 and 75% of children age 0 to 8 use mobile devices that can access the internet.   Children and teens have no idea that the sexual images that they will see online do not happen in real life, in healthy relationships.  This has the ripple effect of damaging future relationships.
  8. Pornography is the exact opposite of sexual respect. Healthy sexuality means ADULTS have sexual activity in a RELATIONSHIP with a REAL LIVE PERSON, not an image on the computer screen, which may or may not be real.  Make sure the adults in the youth’s life model this message in their own behavior.

THERE IS NO PROOF THAT IF A CHILD IS SEXUALLY ABUSED, 

THEY WILL GROW UP TO BECOME A SEXUAL OFFENDER

Either as child, teen or adult.

  • Some children do react to their sexual abuse by doing sexual things to other children. This is called sexually reactive. These kids can be helped by counseling and have a reduced risk that they will sexually abuse again in the future. A good evaluation is key.

 

  • The best interventions for kids who are sexually reactive are good supervision, sex education and understanding their body’s reaction to sex (arousal). Their parents will probably need help to understanding their child’s behaviors. Teens need extra care since they have a more developed conscience and thus more guilt.

 

  • Most kids who have been sexually abused have also had other types of abuse or difficult home life, so it is very difficult to find out exactly what causes problems later.

     

  • Physical abuse of the child, domestic violence in the home and exposure to pornography are all factors related to children abusing others. Research shows that domestic violence is the greatest factor for kids under 11.

 

  • There are over 40 million people in the US who have been sexually abused, and there are not 40 million sex offenders, so there must be other factors related to why adults sexually abuse children.

     

  • The popular belief that all sex offenders have been sexually abused as a child is not based on accurate research. When polygraphs were used to verify offenders’ histories, they found that many adult sex offenders played the “victim card” and reported they were abused when they were not.

 

 

BUT ALSO, DON’T PRETEND

  • If your child has been abused, don’t pretend that they have not been exposed to sexual things before they were ready. Sex is not meant for kids and when abuse happens, it is very confusing. Make sure your child learns the context in which healthy sexuality is supposed to take place.

     

  • If your child has had a problem with acting inappropriately sexually or not having healthy boundaries, don’t pretend that these events have not happened. Ask a professional for help in identifying how to keep your child and others safe from future problems.

     

  • Read “New Rules After Sexual Abuse” to make sure you are doing everything you can to help your child heal from their abuse and maintain appropriate behaviors in the future.

 

A child who has been sexually abused will benefit from clear guidelines that set the rules for their behavior. These kinds of rules provide the structure, comfort and security all children need to grow into healthy adults.

Sexual Respect

  • Suggestive or obscene language is not allowed from anyone. It is sometimes a trigger for old feelings and does not create sexual respect.
  • Do all you can to avoid objectification, which is seeing a person as an object, most typically a sexual object. The American culture is prevalent with pornography, sexualized media and the meeting of sexual desires with people outside of relationships.
  • One possible message is: “every person, young and old, deserves to be respected and sex is a great and wonderful thing for adults, when they think and think about when to share their bodies”.

 

Sex Education

 

  • All children, including the child who has been abused, need basic information about how they develop sexually. They also must know the terms for what was done to them so they aren’t surprised during sex ed at school or with their friends.
  • They will benefit from an atmosphere in which it is OK to talk about sex.
  • Appropriate words for body parts, such as penis, vagina, breasts, and buttocks, will give the child helpful words to use to describe themselves, especially if they have to describe their abuse.

 

Saying NO

  • Children need to learn that they have the right to assertively say “no” when someone touches them ANY WHERE or in ANY WAY they do not like. Help them to practice this.
  • A child should NEVER be pressured into touching someone or showing affection if they are not comfortable.

 

Privacy

  • Everyone has a right to privacy. Children should be taught to knock when a door is closed and adults need to role model the same behavior when entering their child’s room.
  • Reinforce that “It is NOT OK to look at other people’s private parts or show your parts to someone else unless there is a medical reason”.
  • Children also deserve to have privacy with their thoughts, feelings, personal belongings, personal space and time. Remember, this privacy is different than secrets.
  • Children who have been abused deserve the right to privacy when determining who needs to know about their history. If parents need to talk about the event for support, make sure it is with the child’s approval.

 

No Secrets

  • Make it clear that any “secret games”, particularly with adults, are not allowed. Tell children if an adult suggests such a game, they  should tell you  immediately.
  • Help the child understand the difference between secrecy and privacy. This relates to gossip, tattling, reporting abuse and sharing feelings.

 

 

Arousal

  • Help children differentiate between feelings in your body and feelings that are emotions. It is normal to have all kinds of feelings, including sexual feelings. However, everyone does not always act on all the feelings he or she has.
  • Make sure the child knows how to react to feeling aroused emotionally or if their body is aroused and help them to excuse themselves from difficult situations.
  • Some children need very specific instructions on how to distract themselves when aroused.
  • Children who have been abused need to know that if their skin/body parts were aroused during the abuse that they are still NOT responsible for the abuse and it does NOT mean that they liked it. It is possible that their offender has already convinced them otherwise.

 

Touching

  • No one should touch another person without permission. Everyone should ask for hugs.
  • Do not allow them to sit on the laps of adults, as this is a common behavior that offenders encourage and they may be more likely to be abused by others in the future.
  • A person’s private parts should not be touched except during a medical examination or in the case of young children, if they need help with bathing or toileting.
  • Help your child understand that “It is OK to touch yourself if you are in private and it does not interfere with other fun things like playing with friends”.
  • Children need lots of NON SEXUAL touch. The need to feel affection, friendship, caring and love in non sexual ways. Please consult with the child’s therapist to identify what types of touch will be the most helpful.

dr-phil

 

Wrestling and Tickling

  • Tickling and wrestling is not allowed.
  • As common and normal as these childhood behaviors are, they are often tinged with sexual overtones. They can put the weaker child in an overpowered and uncomfortable or humiliating position. Touching of private parts can be “accidental” or not accidental and justified as tickling.

 

Bedrooms and Bathrooms

  • These two locations are often prime stimuli for children and will sometimes trigger traumatic memories. In general, children who have had sexual acts forced on them are probably confused about sexuality it is recommended that they have separate bedrooms and bathroom time.
  • It is not advisable to bring a child who has been sexually abused into an adult’s bed. Cuddling may be over stimulating and misinterpreted. A safer place to cuddle may be the living room couch.
  • If a child is scared at night, work out a plan to help them feel safe without sleeping with another person.

 

Clothing

  • It is a good idea for family members to be conscious of what they wear outside of the bedroom. Seeing others in their underwear or pajamas may be over-stimulating to a child.
  • The goal is to create the feeling of sexual respect with clothing choices.
  • You can send the message that a woman’s worth is based on more than just looking “hot” or “cute”.

 

Being Alone With One Other Person

  • Sometimes children who have been abused behave seductively or aggressively, they need direct supervision. This means they are never alone with another child and sometimes this includes older children and other adults.
  • This eliminates the possibility of false allegations or confusion about the intent of a behavior.
  • Provide coaching and feedback to your child as they learn to interact with others.
  • Babysitting is a choice that needs careful consideration. Ask your therapist for advice.