A few weeks ago my husband returned late from picking up our two children from school, their return quiet and hushed - not like the typical raucous and chaos they bring after school.
I greeted my family at the front door, our youngest baby on my hip, my eyebrows raised in concern. My husband looked me in the eyes, and I knew something was off. I gathered my children in my arms like a mother hen, and looked at his worried expression, attempting to remain calm and collected despite feeling completely out of the loop.
We made the kids a snack together, the silence feeling thick between us, and then we sat down to eat and talk. My husband shared that he had been asked to the school’s office, because there had been an incident in our first-grader’s class.
“What kind of incident?” I asked, preparing to hear that my daughter has caused some kind of trouble.
“A boy was kicking her repeatedly, kicking her vagina,” my husband said calmly, but not casually.
We talked more, my daughter recounted how she had asked the boy to stop, how she went for help, and we talked about the way that the school had handled the situation. We told our daughter how proud we were of her, we hugged and held her, and then she squirmed away and asked to watch television. She left the room, and my husband and I looked at each other, all of the pain and grief in our eyes. We whispered a promise to talk about this more, once the kids were in bed.
We went about the rest of our day, while I kept a close eye on my six-year-old. At bedtime, I asked if she wanted to talk more about what happened at school, and we did. I could hear in her voice her resilience, her quick forgiveness, her desire to move on and forget. I squeezed her tight, willing my tears away, and held her until her breathing was shallow and she had drifted off to sleep.
When I went downstairs to join my husband, I cried all of the angry and hurt tears I had stuffed down inside of myself. It wasn’t fair that my precious first-grader had been violated by another student. I wasn’t willing to shrug this off as nothing. That’s something my parents’ generation would have done, but not me. My husband held me, and we talked about how to continue to handle the situation. We were thankful for a school that had taken the incident seriously - a school that was making sure to support our daughter, and us as parents.
I feel angry that we live in a world where my young child would experience another child crossing her personal boundaries. One of the comments the child made was that it was okay that he did what he did, because he “liked” my daughter. I was furious, knowing that I had worked so hard to raise a daughter with healthy boundaries around her body, when someone else wasn’t doing the work to keep their child and others safe.
“She did everything right in this situation,” my husband reminded me, from getting a friend to support her, to telling a teacher, to being willing to talk openly with us about how she felt. But it made me sad, that our child had needed training in what to do, when (not if) someone violates her personal boundaries.
It is not okay that this happened to my daughter, but the reality is that some children will violate the boundaries of other children. When two six-year-olds are involved, it’s crushing and heartbreaking, but it also offers an opportunity for teaching. I believe this young boy has the opportunity to learn from his mistake, and I believe our school is doing their best to approach this situation in a healthy way.
No matter what age, a child sexually harming another child is not okay. When this happens it should be taken seriously, and support should be given to both children and parents involved. This is a learning opportunity, an opportunity to help children understand better physical boundaries, and how to use their voice and speak up when they’re uncomfortable.
For us, the wound is still fresh, that our child was harmed at school and there was nothing that we could do to protect her. It’s a terrifying reminder that our children might get hurt when we’re not around, and it’s our job to teach them how to handle these situations, instead of ignoring and avoiding talking about them.
For more information about child sexual abuse, and children harming other children, please read this informative and informational document by Stop It Now!