first priority is to your child. There is nothing more important in the world
than what you do to help that child. Recognize as you read these suggestions
that learning or suspecting your child has been abused is, or should be, a
shock. Donít get caught up in being perfect. Parents of children who have
become victims are hard enough on themselves. Do what you need to do now to
insure the childís physical safety and emotional development.
1. Let your child talk.
Listen without interrupting, even though you may have many questions.
Those can be addressed later.
2. Display your sadness, but remain calm. The child may
misinterpret your reactions to think he or she is causing trouble, or you are
going to be hurt.
3. If you are angry at the perpetrator,
thatís understandable and healthy. If you are angry at the child,
you are way off base. It is important you understand that no matter what you
think, the child could not tell you before that moment and could not stop
the abuse. Thatís the perpetratorís fault, and that is who should own the
4. Believe your child.
Very rarely does a child make up a story about this. Although, children
may recant, or take back the story later. They do this out of fear, either
of being hurt more by the perpetrator, or by losing someone they love, protecting
others, or by pressure when others do not believe.
5. Look your child in the eyes and
tell him/her that you believe the story and you are relieved that the child
shared it with you.†
6. The following statements are
powerful in the childís healing. "I
am sorry that happened. That person had no right to hurt you. Its not your
fault. You are not bad. You are not responsible, he(she) is. Iím glad you
told. I love you."
7. Seek professional advice.
You will probably be in a state of shock and not be able to focus well on
what you need to do. Immediate consultation may be available from a crisis
line, or a rape-crisis hotline. However, it is also important that you connect
yourself and child to a mental health professional who is well-versed in abuse
recovery, for the child and family.
8. Report it to authorities.
Consult with professionals concerning
a medical exam. If the abuse just occurred, there may be physical
evidence that needs to be collected for legal reasons. The child should not
bathe. The clothes should be saved and given to the legal authorities. Many
larger cities have professional teams that specialize in sensitively aiding
the victim through this time. A medical exam can also reassure you concerning
no permanent physical damage. The child may also need to be tested for sexually
10. Take a deep breath.
None of this is easy for the caring parent. Right now, though, the child needs
you to be stable and calm.
11. Do not discuss the abuse with
people who do not need to know what happened. The child does not
need to feel ashamed, but may become embarrassed if the abuse becomes a topic
of conversation frequently.
12. Consult with law enforcement
concerning an unbiased interview. Many larger cities have professionals
trained in assessing children for abuse. They may ask to videotape their interview.
This will insure you that an unbiased assessment took place. It also may be
used in any court proceedings.
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1. Don't† panic or over-react. Sometimes this
is what has kept children from telling. The child is depending upon your stability.
2. Let your child
see your anger toward the person who hurt him or her, but don't make threats to
beat up or kill that person. Tell your child what you are going to do to
protect him or her from further abuse, and to protect other children. Report it
to the police.
Donít underestimate the effects this abuse has had on you. Parents
can suffer from secondary post traumatic stress, exhibiting some of the same
symptoms as their child. If you also are an abuse survivor, this can reawaken
old or unresolved issues from your own abuse. It is also very important you
seek professional counseling to get through these difficult times.
pressure your child to talk about the abuse, or to avoid talking about it.
Let the child talk at his/her own pace. This is important for emotional and
legal reasons. The child does not need any additional pressure at this time.
Silencing the child will be giving the child the message that he should not
talk, a message he/she repeatedly had from the abuser. Leave it to the experts
to get testimony. Sometimes the perpetratorís lawyers will make it seem as
if the childís parent put the words into the childís mouth, and therefore
sullied the truth of the testimony. Donít be afraid to talk to your child,
but resist the desire to continue to quiz or push for information.† Get your child to a counselor who specializes in this area. Children
often express themselves through play and art.
not confront the offender with the child present. This may cause
the child to go on to emotional overload. The child will have to confront
the abuse at his/her own pace. Their healing may not include a face-to-face
encounter. It should always be up to the survivors to lead the way in that
confrontation.† This writer never recommends it until after
the victim has been through focused therapy with an expert in the field. As
an adult, you may determine whether or not to confront the offender. The same
emotional cautions holds true for you. Do not expect an admittance of truth
or an apology. It rarely happens. If you are confronting because you want
the perpetrator to know you know the truth, and that you believe the child,
that goal can be accomplished. This is no small emotional event though, and
professional consultation is strongly recommended. You also want to consider
whether or not you will be in danger.† Remember,
you probably donít know this person as well as you thought. This person hurt
your child and could hurt you.
6.† Donít blame your
child. It is never the childís fault, although the perpetrator
will work to make the child believe that.
lose touch with your own personal support system. You need help
in getting through this difficult time.
that while the abuse dramatically has changed all your lives, with help you
can stop it from continuing to interfere.
Untreated abuse can cause difficulties in relationships, feelings of inadequacy,
fear, feeling trapped and other core feelings. These core feelings can trigger
unhealthy behaviors such as overeating, not eating, compulsive spending, drinking,
sexually acting out and depression. (For more information about core feelings,
read Body Sense.
If you are reading this, you are a concerned, caring person. That is the most
important person to have in an abuse survivor's corner. Thank you.
If you'd like more information on
effective parenting and how to provide positive support to your child during
troubled times, enroll in our online course
Improving Your Parenting.
Copyright Brenda Crawford-Clark 2001
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