8 Year Old Gives Mother Pop-Quiz on Rape

My daughter posed a question last week that pierced the Back-to-School haze. She asked me how she could prevent a boy from raping her.

My daughter posed a question last week that pierced the Back-to-School haze.   She asked me how she could prevent a boy from raping her.  My daughter’s only 8 years old.  Naturally, I asked her what she thought “rape” meant.  In the past, I could rely on her defining complex terms and words with remote accuracy.   So all that was required from me was to make the necessary adjustments I thought appropriate for her age and adhere to the sage advice “Answer the question she is asking with the facts, not sophisticated concepts because that’s not what she’s asking for”.  Afterwards, I was pleased with myself and relieved at how easy it was to answer her questions simply, without much detail.  I also marveled at how quickly she transitioned to a new impending question she had like, did I believe in fairies.

This time, though, was different.  She delivered a dead-on definition of rape that made me wince.   Turns out, a girl she met at Summer Camp informed her that she had been raped by her Stepfather, giving details on how he restrained her.  We talked about it for a good amount of time and I could sense her mounting anxiety over the realization that someone “could” overpower her into submission, hurt her, and more.   She kept asking me how she could prevent something like this from happening to her, and soon enough we were head-on discussing other issues concerning coercion and abuse, like bullying at school.

I called my daughter’s Pediatrician and we discussed some strategies to help her cope.  He supported my idea to find books my daughter and I could read together, as a foundation from which to build upon.  I was pleased to learn that some of the books my daughter had already read as required reading in elementary school.  Here are some recurring themes and strategies we’ve read about so far:


  • Self-respect and giving respect to others.
  • How to get it and give it.
  • What it feels like to be disrespected.


  • Gaining confidence and courage to speak out and ask questions.
  • Setting boundaries.
  • How to handle when boundaries are crossed.
  • Listening to and honoring your “gut”.
  • Defending yourself.
  • Bullying; what it means and how to handle.
  • How to say “no”.


  • Opening up about your feelings with adults and friends.
  • Listening skills.
  • Seeking out caring adults who will listen and talk over problems, feelings, and confusing situations with you.

As I put my daughter on the bus this morning for her first full-day of school, I felt more assured that I’d done my homework and that we’re both better prepared for what lies ahead.

Lesson learned?  It's never too-early to start talking with your child about abuse because if we don't, someone else will. Below is a suggested reading list I’ve provided to assist with the initiation of that dialogue categorized in ages ranging from Pre-K through Young Adult, with the help of Suzanne Harrison-Thomas, Children’s Librarian, Milford Public Library, and Sharon Breslow, Children’s Librarian, BA, MLS at the Bridgeport Public Library.

Cynthia Dartley is Publisher/Editor of Macaroni Kid, a FREE weekly newsletter featuring recipes/crafts, events and activities for kids and their families.  Follow her on Face Book, Twitter and Pinterest.

Young Adult Fiction 

Bauer, Michael Gerard. Don't call me Ishmael; 2007.  Fourteen-year-old Ishmael Leseur is certain that his name is the cause of his unhappy school life as the victim of the worst bully in his class, but when a new boy arrives, he shows Ishmael that things could be different.

Vachss, Andrew. Heart transplant; 2010.  The gripping story of young boy's transformation from bullied 'outsider' to true manhood. Clinical social worker Zak Mucha offers the anchoring non-fiction essay, explaining in detail what the reader has just experienced.

Bullyville by Francine Prose

Burger Wuss by M.T. Anderson

Burn by Suzanne Phillips

Young Adult Non-Fiction

Cornered: 14 stories of bullying and defiance; 2012. 

Courtney Macavinta & Andrea Vander Pluym. Respect: A Girl’s Guide to Getting Respect & Dealing When Your Line Is Crossed. Helps teen girls get respect and hold on to is no matter what—at home, at school, with their friends, and in the world. 

Young Adult Graphic Novel

Castellucci, Cecil & Jim Rugg. The Plain Janes; 2007. 

Jane goes looking for friends outside of the in-crowd and discovers a lunch table of loners who are really creative and adventurous art lovers.

Juvenile Fiction (roughly 3rd-7th grade)

Madison, Lynda. American Girl, American Girl Library. The Feelings Book: The Care & Keeping of Your Emotions

Girls' mental health is the focus of the book, a companion volume to The Care & Keeping of You. Opening sections explain emotions, others suggest how to handle powerful feelings and focus on developing positive self-esteem. Girls' comments and questions appear throughout.

Blume, Judy. Blubber; 1974. Jill goes along with the rest of the fifth-grade class in tormenting a classmate and then finds out what it’s like when she, too, becomes a target.

Choldenko, Gennifer. If a Tree Falls at Lunch Period; 2007.  Kirsten and Walk, private school students, share how race, wealth, weight, and other issues shape their relationships as they and others stand up to a mean but influential classmate.

Clements, Andrew. Jake Drake bully buster; 2001.  When Jake was three years old at Miss Lulu's Danity Diaper Day Care Center, what did he know about bullies? Nothing. But he learned fast--too fast! Why? Because Jake is kind of smart, and he's not a tattletale, and he doesn't have a big brother to protect him...

Duffey, Betsy. How to be cool in the third grade; 1993.  When Robbie York is marked as a target by a bully at school, he decides that the only way to survive the third grade is by being cool.

Flores-Galbis, Enrique. 90 miles to Havana; 2010.  When unrest hits the streets of Havana, Cuba, Julian's parents must make the heartbreaking decision to send him and his two brothers away to Miami via the Pedro Pan operation. But when the boys get to Miami, they are thrust into a world where bullies seem to run rampant and it's not always clear how best to protect themselves.

Van Draanen, Wendelin. Secret identity; 2004.  Fifth-grader Nolan Byrd, tired of being called names by the class bully, has a secret identity--Shredderman!

Chapter Books (5th grade-middle school)

Starting School with the Enemy by Elisa Carbone

Schooled by Gordon Korman

Chapter Books (2nd grade-5th grade)

Calvin Coconut:  Trouble Magnet by Graham Salisbury

EllRay Jakes is Not a Chicken by Sally Warner

Jake Drake, Bully Buster by Andrew Clements

Juvenile Non-Fiction

Burstein, John. Why are you picking on me? : Dealing with bullies; 2010.  Bullying is one of the scariest and potentially damaging negative behaviors children can face. Slim Goodbody helps young students learn to recognize the different kinds of bullying and presents strategies for dealing with even the toughest situations.

McGraw, Jay. Jay McGraw's life strategies for dealing with bullies; 2008.  This guide helps kids identify potentially harmful situations and deal with bullies through tips, techniques, and examples that apply to real-life situations.

The Care and Keeping of Friends, American Girl Library

The Feelings Book: The Care & Keeping of Your Emotions, by Dr. Lynda Madison, American Girl

*DVD, elementary grades (also available as a book) Bullies Are a Pain in the Brain (Trevor Romain)

JJ Fiction (roughly pre-K to grade 3)

Binkow, Howard. Howard B. Wigglebottom learns about bullies; 2008.  Howard B. Wigglebottom is a young rabbit who is bullied at school and finally decides to tell his teacher.

Elanor Estes, The Hundred Dresses

Henkes, Kevin. Chrysanthemum; 1991.  Chrysanthemum loves her name, until she starts going to school and the other children make fun of it.

Howe, James. Pinky and Rex and the bully; 1996.  Pinky learns the importance of identity as he defends his favorite color, pink, and his friendship with a girl, Rex, from the neighborhood bully.

Shaw, Hannah. Sneaky weasel; 2008.  A sneaky weasel finds that his tricks have left him with plenty of power, lots of fancy stuff, and absolutely no friends. Can this very bad weasel learn how to be good?

Picture Books (preK & early elementary)

Freckleface Strawberry and the Dodgeball Bully by Julianne Moore

Recess Queen by Alexis O'Neill

Bullies Never Win by Margery Cuyler

Hooway for Wodney Wat by Helen Lester

Tale of Sir Dragon:  Dealing with Bullies for Kids (and Dragons) by Jean Pendziwol

Yo-Yo Man by Daniel Pinkwater

Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems

Can You Say Peace? by Karen Katz

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Leslie Yager August 28, 2012 at 10:50 PM
Good for you for writing this Cynthia! In our house we called it "the uh-oh feeling." Uncomfortable but important have to have these conversations.
Susan Komisar Hausman August 29, 2012 at 11:56 AM
Cynthia, Thanks for sharing your story. You did a great job with and for your daughter! It's important for every adult responsible for a child to know how to speak with that child at an age-appropriate level about abuse. It's also vital for adults to be sure to put policies into place, in their lives and in their community's youth-serving organizations, that enable prevention, recognition and responsible reaction to abuse. I have been a facilitator and facilitator instructor for Darkness To Light's Stewards of Children training for many years. Stewards is a training for adults that was named the Crime Prevention Program of the Year by the National Crime Prevention Council in 2007. The 2.5 hour training is available online or live. There are facilitators in Stamford at The Center for Sexual Assault and in Bridgeport at The Center for Women and Families. Right now, due to a wonderful grant, many orgs. are delivering the training at no cost to attendees (it's usually $10). I encourage you and every adult reading this to attend or arrange a training. It's an incredibly empowering experience that's going a long way towards keeping our kids safer. You can check out Darkness To Light at www.Darkness2Light.org. Great job! Susan
Cynthia Dartley August 29, 2012 at 12:11 PM
Thank you Susan for reaching out, and, providing the information on your important organization. I will pursue.
Susan Komisar Hausman August 29, 2012 at 12:28 PM
Great! Many YMCAs and some JCCs also offer the trainings. The Stamford JCC has a great initiative going and they are working very closely with The Center for Sexual Assault. I know they'd be happy to talk with you about it.
Jill Starishevsky August 29, 2012 at 01:59 PM
Great piece. As a prosecutor of child abuse and sex crimes and a mother, I have worked hard to get the message of prevention out there. I wrote a book for 3-8 year olds called My Body Belongs to Me. It is intended to aid parents with this difficult discussion. Jill Starishevsky http://www.MyBodyBelongstoMe.com
Cynthia Dartley August 29, 2012 at 02:23 PM
Thanks Jill. I wish I had known about your book prior to publish.


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