Tips for National Child Abuse Prevention Month

This post was originally published April 11, 2014
By Jill Starishevsky, author of My Body Belongs to Me/Mi cuerpo me pertenece

Tips for National Child Abuse Prevention MonthAs a former prosecutor of child abuse and sex crimes in New York City for 22 years, one of the most surprising facts I have learned is that 93 percent of all child sexual abuse occurs at the hands of someone known to the child. This means that teaching “stranger danger” alone is not enough.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. To help raise awareness, here are three tips to teach children that will help keep them safe from child sexual abuse.

1. No secrets. Period.

Secrets are the most powerful weapon in a child sex offender’s arsenal. If we can take away their secrets, we can take away their power. Encourage your children to tell you about things that happen to them that make them feel scared, sad, or uncomfortable. If children have an open line of communication, they will be more inclined to alert you to something suspicious before it becomes a problem.

The way to effectuate this rule is as follows: if someone, even a grandparent, were to say something to your child such as “I’ll get you an ice cream later, but it will be our secret,” firmly but politely say, “We don’t do secrets in our family.” Then say to your child, “Right? We don’t do secrets. We can tell each other everything.”

2. Teach your child the correct terms for their body parts.

This will make them more at ease if they need to tell you about a touch that made them feel uncomfortable. Additionally, if a child uses a word like cookie or peanuts to describe their private parts, a disclosure might be missed. A busy teacher who hears a child say, “The janitor touched my cookie” might just offer to replace the cookie instead of offering help.

Inform children that the parts of their body covered by their bathing suit are private and are for no one else to see or touch (noting the necessary exceptions for bathing, potty issues, and medical treatment in the presence of Mom or Dad).

Keep in mind that children may be confronted with another child who touches their private parts. Explain that private parts are private from everyone, including other children.

3. Let children decide for themselves how they want to express affection.

Children should not be forced to hug or kiss if they are uncomfortable. Even if they are with your favorite aunt, uncle, or cousin, your child should not be required to be demonstrative in their affection. While this may displease you, by letting children decide, you will empower them to say no to inappropriate touching.

Starishevsky_Jill_RGBJill Starishevsky has been an assistant district attorney in New York City since 1997, where she has prosecuted thousands of sex offenders and dedicated her career to seeking justice for victims of child abuse and sex crimes. Her mission to protect children, along with her penchant for poetry, inspired My Body Belongs to Me. A mother of three, Jill has been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show and is a prevention specialist who, through media appearances and public speaking events, teaches how to recognize and prevent child sexual abuse. She lives in New York City.

Free Spirit books by Jill:

My Body Belongs to MeMy Body Belongs to Me Bilingual

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Reducing Student Anxiety in the Midst of COVID-19

By Stephanie Filio

Reducing Student Anxiety in the Midst of COVID-19What. In. The. World. Coronavirus? A pandemic?!

Every day I am getting closer and closer to being able to begin to process what is going on, but it is certainly slow going. First, there is my baseline: if I read about the symptoms of any illness, you can bet that as I look cool and collected outside, the inside of my head is a hot mess fixating on every symptom. I start to feel warm, dance a little with panic, and then talk myself down. Needless to say, I am working overtime trying not to get stuck in a coronavirus-anxiety hidey-hole.

For the last couple of weeks and possibly right this moment, our students and children are watching and talking about imagery that will likely be engrained in their heads for the rest of their lives. Grocery stores with empty shelves, hazmat suits and bodies under blankets on the news, celebrities who contracted viruses on news feeds, and hushed parents discussing possible economic fallout.

For anyone, these images are scary. To a child, who has even less context for complex perspective and reasoning, these may be terrifying. How, at home and through our digital schools, can we help?

Keep Them Busy

Much like ourselves, the best thing we can do to help student anxiety is to keep them busy! When we are idle, we are in our heads thinking. And with so much uncertainty, that thinking can become quite dark. Digital instructors and parents can post and watch or participate in a whole host of online events that are popping up every minute! Some of the early links I have sent to my students include:

Pick the Right Words

In addition to imagery, our kids are also hearing a lot of fear-provoking things. Kids are freaked out. Adults are freaked out. We are all in collective shock that this situation is even happening. This is our new life, and it will take a long time to feel secure again. I have been really touched by the way I have seen humans interact lately. People are being kinder, we are appreciating each other, and we are much more apt to reach for humor than cynicism. More than ever, words matter.

There are many signs that a child is ruminating on something, signs that often appear “between the lines.” When we see these signs in kids, we can take the opportunity to start conversations to help them course through their feelings.


Many of my students have sent me messages or posted on discussion boards that the COVID-19 quarantine scenario is all blown out of proportion. Though my instinct was to send information about social distancing and data coming out of Europe, I had to dial myself back.

These kids are scared. Downplaying and making light of situations like these is part of the mind’s way to self-preserve. Instead of adding more shock, I keep my responses positive and keep the goal in mind: “Either way, we will get to see each other soon and we will all be healthy and ready to return! In the meantime, here are some fun things you can do at home to pass time!”

Random Thoughts on the Future

Walking out of the house on Friday morning my son randomly said, “Mom, I don’t think I’m going to travel for the eleventh-grade music field trips. It just seems like there can be a lot of danger in other countries.” He’s in eighth grade. He hadn’t really talked a lot about the COVID-19 threat, but he was telling me that he was indeed thinking about it and applying it to years ahead in the future. This was an alert telling me we needed a conversation. He needed to vent about his fears, and he also needed to return to the present time to stop worrying about things that haven’t come yet.


If students are not talking about COVID-19, they are likely thinking about it on their own. It is important to be cognizant of the conversations we are having around children and either restrict some of what we are saying or have follow-up conversations to ensure that there is appropriate closure.
When students are not given a full understanding of what they hear, their imaginations will fill in the gaps. Again, the idea is not to push them too hard to talk about something they are not ready to actualize, but soft explanations may offer hope and encouragement for when life returns to a somewhat normal state.

Sudden Irritation

Personal feelings can be a tricky thing in times of crisis, and this goes for kids and adults. “It’s just a cold or flu” is a common phrase we are hearing lately. But what happens when you say this to someone who lost their parents to a cold that turned into pneumonia? Or a mom who lost their young child to the flu? Illness has touched all of us in ways that others may not understand if they do not share the same experience. New trauma such as a pandemic can easily be a trigger for old trauma.

If your student is suddenly irritated at sounds, closeness, or other stimuli, it may be because something else is bothering them. Try to express to them that you are there to talk, but also make sure they know you will respect their space as long as they trust that you are there for them.


One of my very good friends has an anxiety monster that is besties with mine (she knows who she is). She and I have passed articles and emerging facts back and forth since the early days of this pandemic’s coverage. We are obsessed because we are worried and can’t stop thinking about it, and we know that. Kids, on the other hand, may not realize that what they are doing is feeding their anxiety. Help remind kids to log off of the news feeds and remind them that in times that are very dark, we should stay informed but also find light, airy, and fun diversions!

Return to Mindfulness

Just in time, there has been a ton of recent attention on mindfulness and peaceful thinking, which gives us many resources for a strong home practice. Mindfulness helps us return to the present and be aware of ourselves. Particularly in our current coronavirus situation, it is easy to feel anxious about what a pandemic is, what the dangers to ourselves and our families are, and what complications the future might bring.

Mindfulness asks us to focus on our physical state in the moment and calms our mental state. Finding proof in our consciousness offers reassurance that we are indeed a breathing, safe, and well-functioning being with a purpose. This might seem like a no-brainer, but when our anxiety has taken over, we are thinking beyond even these simple securities. Some simple anxiety-reducing mindfulness activities include:

  • 4×4 breathing. Breathe by inhaling for four counts, holding for four counts, breathing out for four counts, and holding for four counts. Repeat as needed, maybe even with eyes closed!
  • Mental body scans. Close your eyes and “check in” with each part of your body with a little mental tap, or mentally imagine you are picturing your blood flow through your entire body.
  • Hand tracing. Move your index finger along the outline of your hand over and over again until you feel yourself self-soothe.
  • Silent visualization. Close your eyes, picture scenery or movement in nature, and try to fall into the visualization by becoming more and more relaxed.

Implications Everywhere

Many of us have had work- or school-from-home days due to snow, flood, hurricane, or other issues. In Virginia Beach, a couple of inches of snow and a little bit of ice can easily shut down our city for weeks. In these cases, students understand that the main reason for staying home is usually because transportation is not safe.

With the COVID-19 scenario we are in now—the threat of widespread illness—students may feel more like they are under attack and no one can keep them safe. This is a whole different feeling for them and could have long-term implications on their educational outlooks moving forward. By providing healthy connections to important places in their lives (such as school) and providing much-needed mental health support at home, we can help transition them into their new normal.

Stephanie FilioStephanie Filio is a middle school counselor in Virginia Beach. She received her undergraduate degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Virginia and her M.Ed. in counseling from Old Dominion University. In a discussion with one of her UVA professors about her desire to stay in school forever, her mentor wisely responded, “If you want to be a lifelong learner, go into education,” and so she found her place. Prior to her six years as a school counselor, Stephanie worked in private education, specializing in standardized tests, test preparation, and future planning. She writes about her career and hobbies at her blog, Weekend Therapy, and can be found on Twitter @steffschoolcoun. Stephanie also enjoys spending time with her books, crafts, and family.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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This Is the Way We Wash Our Hands . . .

By Elizabeth Verdick, author of  Germs Are Not for Sharing

This Is the Way We Wash Our Hands . . .Jimmy Fallon’s new song is helping Americans tune in to the importance of fighting viruses: “Wash your hands, wash your hands, do not touch your face.” He strums his guitar, crooning that if we follow these guidelines, “Then the world would be a better place.” He wrote the song for his young daughters and shared it with millions of followers, hoping that through humor a serious message will spread.

Fallon isn’t the only celebrity getting the word out about handwashing. A Gloria Gaynor TikTok focuses on the importance of washing hands for at least 20 seconds, as recommended by medical experts. The singer introduces a handwashing challenge, soaping up her hands while singing her famous song, “I Will Survive.” (It’s an alternative to the often-recommended “Birthday Song,” which we encourage young children to sing as they scrub because it’s one they already know.) Want another disco classic to wash your hands to? Teach your kids to hum or sing along to the chorus of “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees: “Whether you’re a brother or whether you’re a mother / You’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive / Feel the city breakin’ and everybody shakin’ / And we’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive / Ah, ah, ah, ah, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive / Ah, ah, ah, ah, stayin’ aliiiiiiive!”

Many of us are scared or confused in the face of the coronavirus (COVID-19), but there are steps we can take to fight germs and stay healthy. Step one is washing our hands frequently throughout the day. A recent study by the US Department of Agriculture determined that people fail to correctly wash their hands 97 percent of the time. The most common mistake? Not washing hands long enough to kill germs. Here’s our chance to review proper handwashing techniques so we can help our kids do it right.

Follow these five steps from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention every time:

  • Wet your hands with clean running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. To time that out, children can sing the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice. (Or choose snippets from a favorite song, or simply count: “1-Mississippi, 2-Mississippi, 3-Mississippi, and so on.)
  • Rinse your hands well under clean running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

This Is the Way We Wash Our Hands . . .It’s easy for children to tune out our constant reminders to wash their hands or to take shortcuts during the process. You might want to do an experiment to give kids a visual learning tool. One preschool teacher’s idea for sharing a handwashing message is called “The Pepper Trick.” Amanda Lorenzo asks one student to dip a finger into a bowl filled with water that has been sprinkled with pepper. (The pepper is a representation of viruses.) The pepper floats, sticking to the fingertip and mimicking how germs and viruses attach to us. Lorenzo has a second bowl filled with soap. She asks the same student to dip that peppery finger into the soap. Viewers watch as the pepper slides off the student’s finger, repelled by the soap. Next, she asks the student to dip the soap-covered finger into the original pepper bowl. Here’s where the “magic” happens. The pepper swiftly moves away from the finger, as if being pushed. The teacher explains how viruses don’t like soap and can be washed away by it. You can share the experiment with your kids too.

As you practice social distancing, notice how your hands are busy all day long, touching so many different surfaces: dishes, railings, countertops, handles, the phone, computer keyboards, the remote control. Scientists are still researching how long the coronavirus can live on a hard surface, but on some surfaces it may live for 72 hours or longer. Often, we forget how many things we’ve touched, and then we rub our eyes, scratch our noses, or put our fingers in our mouths. Suddenly, we’ve introduced germs into an environment where they take hold and spread.

As you focus on more frequent handwashing, you may want to try the phrase “Germs are not for sharing” as a reminder. Check in to make sure family members wash up, especially before and after eating; after using the bathroom; after sneezing, coughing, or blowing their nose; and after touching a phone, computer, or tablet. Show children how to sneeze and cough into a tissue or their sleeve (not on each other or you). And keep surfaces clean by frequently wiping them down with germ-fighting cleansers or bleach.

I write this while working from home, with my kids here instead of at school. I feel grateful that people across America—and the world—are focused on trying to keep each other safe and healthy. I wish you all well in this time of great uncertainty. Sending good thoughts to each of you, from far away.

Free Coloring Page! Choose “scale to paper” in your print window.

Elizabeth VerdickElizabeth Verdick has written children’s books for kids of all ages, from toddlers to teens. She has worked on many titles in the Laugh & Learn® series. Elizabeth loves helping kids through her work as a writer and an editor. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and their two (nearly grown) children, and she plays traffic cop for their many furry, four-footed friends

Free Spirit books by Elizabeth Verdick:

Germs Are Not For Sharing_BoardBookClean-Up Time

Noses Are Not for Picking (Web)

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

For More Information
US Department of Agriculture: “Study Shows Most People Are Spreading Dangerous Bacteria Around the Kitchen and Don’t Even Realize It
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “When and How to Wash Your Hands

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2020 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The view expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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New Colors and Connections for Earth Hour in Times of COVID-19

By Bernardo Marçolla, author of Me and You and the Universe

Close Your Eyes and Open Your Heart: 8 Mindful Moments for Earth HourToday we are experiencing an unprecedented phenomenon on a worldwide scale related to the wide spread of COVID-19. In many countries, strict quarantines have been adopted, with profound impacts on the daily routines of our personal lives and on the dynamics of our economies—regardless of whether we are sick.

In addition to the great challenges imposed by this moment, we are also faced with unique opportunities. The first and most obvious being that we have living proof before us that as humanity we are ONE, deeply interconnected. In fact, this awareness that we are one imposes itself. In this time of uncertainty, we have the opportunity to rethink our habits and relationships, which can translate into very positive changes for our future.

Therefore, I believe that in this time, we must not succumb to feelings of fear and despair. This moment—and even the restrictive contact measures adopted in it—invite us to dive deeper into ourselves. From that dive, we can emerge transformed.

Earth Hour appears to be synergistically connected to this same moment. In recent years, Earth Hour has been an important symbolic event in which people from all over the world can come together around a common goal, which is to awaken to the awareness of practices that are more in tune with the survival and health of our planet. By turning off the lights at the same time, we demonstrate how we are able to overcome our tendency to individualism and go beyond ourselves, connected to Earth and to all humanity for the common good.

In addition to simply turning off a light switch, this event is a great opportunity for us to seriously connect to something greater than ourselves.

This year, Earth Hour will be on Saturday, March 28, from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. your local time. When you participate this year, I suggest you try something new. Choose a place where you feel comfortable and won’t be interrupted. If you are not alone, make sure that the other people are also willing to go through this practice (but all must do it individually, since it is very personal). If you are in the company of children, it would be very interesting to lead them through the process.

There are no strict rules. After turning off the lights, try to follow the sequence below in the way you feel most comfortable.

1. Close your eyes and try to feel and connect with your own body. Feel every part of yourself; feel your breathing and your pulse. Feel the contact of your body with the place where it rests. You can do this sitting or lying down, whatever you prefer. Choose a color and assign it to your body. Be aware that your body is your first and foremost contact with Nature itself.

2. Try to identify how you are feeling. What emotions are coming up? Always remember to breathe and stay connected to your body. Assign a color to your emotional life as a whole.

3. Try to identify what you are thinking while remaining connected with your body and your emotions,—what are the ideas and concepts that come to you at this moment? It doesn’t matter what they are. Look at them like you’re watching a movie. Assign a color to your thoughts.

4. Take a few minutes—as long as necessary—to just breathe, trying to feel relaxed where you are. When you feel like it’s the moment, mentally try to mix the three colors you assigned to your body, your emotions, and your thinking. Imagine a watercolor palette and see how these colors mix to form a new color. This new color symbolically represents the totality of your being.

5. Now try to remember a time or experience when you felt really open and empathetically connected to someone else. It may have been with someone who has been important in your life or it may have been a casual experience. Look for experiences like love, trust, gratitude, or forgiveness. The important thing is that you try to rescue the positive feeling of truly being in contact with someone else. Assign a color to the sensation of being empathetically connected to another human being.

6. Try to remember an experience in which you felt emotionally connected to some other (nonhuman) living being or element of Nature. It could be a plant, a pet from your childhood, a celestial object, a landscape. It may simply be the feeling of water on your body when you take a dip or the sun warming you in winter. All that matters is that it really touched you. Assign a color to this feeling of being connected to another living being or element of Nature.

7. Take a few more minutes—again, as long as necessary—to just breathe. When you feel that it is the moment, mentally try to mix the last three colors you assigned to the totality of your being, the feeling of being connected to another human being, and the feeling of being connected to an element of Nature. Just like the other time, imagine a watercolor palette and see how these three colors can blend to form a new color. This new color symbolically represents your being in full connection to yourself, to other people, and to Earth.

8. When the time comes to turn the lights on again, I suggest you use the final color to make a small drawing that represents the connection you achieved. You don’t have to be an artist: Just do a little sketch or draw a symbol. It is a very good way to integrate and conclude the experience.

Finally, I would like to add that I believe that a connection with Earth must be nurtured from an early age, when we are still children. It is important to stress that this is a kind of knowledge that is not only intellectual, but encompasses the construction of a differentiated sensitivity to the world, to other people, and to ourselves. For that goal, it is not enough to learn the theoretical foundations that connect us to all humanity and to Earth. We must effectively learn to see and feel ourselves as part of a whole that is beautiful—and almost magical.

So, during Earth Hour this year, don’t just turn off the lights in your home. Close your eyes, open your heart, breathe deeply, and really feel how everything is connected. When the lights come on again, your world will not be the same.

Bernardo MarçollaBernardo Marçolla is an author and illustrator who holds degrees in psychology and literature and has over 10 years of experience as a professor of psychology. Since 2012, he has been an analyst in the human resources area of the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, and in 2017, he published the book Psychology and Ecology: Nature, Subjectivity, and Its Intersections. Inspired to adapt the ideas in that book for children, Marçolla created Me and You and the Universe. He loves chocolate and still has not given up on learning to draw a little better. He lives in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, with his wife and two cats.

Me and You and the UniverseBernardo is the author of Me and You and the Universe

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Should Child Care Centers Close in the Wake of the Coronavirus?

By Michelle Salcedo, M.Ed., author of Uncover the Roots of Challenging Behavior: Create Responsive Environments Where Young Children Thrive

Should Child Care Centers Close in the Wake of the Coronavirus?Across the country, child care centers are faced with an excruciating decision: stay open and risk a possible outbreak of COVID-19, or shut the doors and leave children and families without the care they need and teachers without steady employment. In unprecedented situations like the one we are facing now, there are no easy answers. At this point, most states are leaving the decision up to individual centers. And in making the decision for a center, there are many factors management need to weigh. Top of mind are the needs of three important groups.


Even as many businesses temporarily shutter and others mandate that employees work from home, there will still be people who need to report to work and need care for their children. Often, the people who most need child care are those in vital roles of service, including medical staff, retail workers, and those who care for other vulnerable populations. With a society that is increasingly mobile, many families find themselves without a social safety net of care in a time of need. Those people count on the safe and reliable care of their neighborhood child care center.


It is no secret that child care teachers are paid much less than they are worth. Those who care for, love, and educate our nation’s children deserve to make millions of dollars. But the truth is that many live paycheck to paycheck. And those paychecks are dependent on the tuition that families pay for their children’s care. If centers close, there is no money with which to cover teachers’ salaries. By staying open, centers are providing thousands of teachers with the means to pay their rent and put food on their tables.


Finally, but by no means least important, is the fact that by staying open, centers are providing an invaluable service to the children in their care. In times of uncertainty, children need high-quality and consistent care. They need the reassurance of the warm comfort of beloved caregivers and familiar routines. When centers close and families are forced to seek care elsewhere, children may experience additional stress in an already stressful time.

Just because a center is staying open, it does not mean that they are not taking seriously the risk that COVID-19 presents to a community. Most are taking special precautions to safeguard children and staff while the threat is active. These include limiting the people who come and go in centers, increasing sanitizing and cleaning, screening children and staff as they enter, and supporting children, families, and staff in keeping themselves healthy.

No matter what decision a center makes, clear and consistent communication is so important. A center should communicate regularly about updates and timelines. They can also provide at-home learning activities for children and keep in touch with families to provide them with resources on supporting their children through these challenging times.

Coverage of the COVID-19 outbreak usually includes the word unprecedented, and there is no better word to discuss what is happening in the world right now. As a human society, we are facing a threat unlike anything in the past. We don’t know what is going to happen, but there is one thing we do know, and it’s a message we can pass on to children:

We will get through this. We do not necessarily know what the other side looks like, but we will emerge into it. We are all in this together, and if we can be kind, compassionate, and patient with one another, we will be okay.

Michelle SalcedoMichelle Salcedo, M.Ed.,has worked in the field of early childhood for over 30 years, starting as a “teacher’s helper” in her younger brother’s center. She has served as a teacher, director, trainer, and family educator in numerous child care settings across Michigan, South Carolina, and Spain. She lives in Greenville, South Carolina.

Uncover the Roots of Challenging BehaviorMichelle is the author of Uncover the Roots of Challenging Behavior: Create Responsive Environments Where Young Children Thrive.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2020 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The view expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

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