Helping a child who has been sexually abused
Have you just heard from your child that they have been sexually abused by a friend, neighbor, coach or even another family member?
The fear you will feel is very normal but knowing the proper way
to respond and support is crucial for your child and your family’s recovery.
The most important thing: no matter how shocked and hurt you are about this disclosure it’s up to you to remain calm and try to help the child as calmly and appropriately as possible. This will be one of the most important things you do for your child AND for yourself. Get help for yourself right away to help you work through your own emotions about the abuse.
Sexually abused children and their families need immediate professional evaluation and treatment. Child and adolescent psychiatrists can help abused children regain a sense of self-esteem, cope with feelings of guilt about the abuse, and begin the process of overcoming trauma. Such treatment can help reduce the risk that the child will develop serious problems as an adult.
Child sex abusers can make the child extremely fearful of telling, and only when a special effort has helped the child feel safe, can the child talk freely. If a child says they have been molested, parents should try to remain calm and reassure the child that what happened was not their fault.
Acknowledge and affirm your child’s feelings of anger, fear, frustration, guilt and sadness as they arise. Let your child know that feelings are just the way that helps us know what’'s going on inside us. Refrain from trying to talk them out of their feelings. Comfort your child and give them reassurance and love.
Ask only neutral questions. If your child makes statements about being “hurt,” it’'s ok to ask a few neutral questions such as “How did you get 'hurt'?” or “What happened?” But it is important to avoid asking leading or suggestive questions or to repeatedly question the child.
Stress that your child is not to blame. Say, “It wasn’t your fault," and relay that your child will not be in trouble for telling. Emphasize that your child did the right thing by telling. Say, "I'’m glad you told.” "'I’m proud of you." “I believe you."
Keep your child safe from the suspect. Seek legal counsel if necessary. You may need to find out if it’s' possible to take legal steps to ensure your child only has supervised visits with the person of concern, to determine whether contact can be stopped entirely, or to see if there is some other legal resource to keep your child safe.
Do not talk about the abuse to others in front of your child. Talking specifically about the suspected abuse where your child can hear you can be overwhelming for your child and may taint any legal investigations taking place.
Stay consistent. It is important that you and your child’'s lives stay as normal or consistent as possible. The exceptions to this are any changes that need to be made to ensure your child’'s safety. Structure and predictability provide a safe environment for healing to begin. Talk often, play together, pray together and nurture them with affirmations of their worth.
Recognize the strength in your child. Children are remarkably resilient and often bounce back more quickly than adults. Allow your child to have their feelings without judgment. Over time, you can work with your child and help them process their feelings. This will help them find the best way to respond to the abuse and will allow the healing to begin.
Unconditional love and continual support from a parent or caregiver is the most important key in helping the child’s mental, spiritual, and emotional healing process.