Helping Your Child Heal From Sexual Abuse
Research tells us that the single most significant factor in a child’s recovery from a traumatic event is the parental support that child receives. It can be difficult for many parents to figure out how to best help their child, particularly when they are also dealing with their own feelings of betrayal, fear, guilt, anger and sadness.
You will likely need to be able to share your own feelings about the abuse with people you trust such as a spouse, friend, minister or a counselor. At the same time, you can take many of the following steps to be the support your child needs.
Create a safe environment
Your child’s sense of safety has been compromised and one of the most important steps you can take is to make sure your child is in familiar environments with people they feel close to including family, close friends and relatives. Keep the child’s routine as familiar and regular as possible.
Provide reassurance and extra emotional support
Reassure your child that no matter what, they have done nothing wrong. Let them know you will do what is necessary to keep them safe. Let them know that they can talk about their feelings with you, but don’t push them to talk. When they do talk, listen to their words and to the feelings behind the words. Tell your child what you hear him or her saying and express your understanding of the feelings they are expressing.
Be Honest About What Happened
Provide accurate information that is appropriate to the child’s developmental level.
Below are some age appropriate tips for parents:
Infants to 2 ½ years
- Maintain routines with eating, naps, bedtime, and special time with parents.
- Avoid unnecessary separations from caretakers. Keep the child as close as possible for the first days.
- Provide extra soothing activities – story times, soft music, warm baths, and rocking in a chair.
- If a child reenacts the traumatic event through play, understand that he/she is trying to understand what happened and gain mastery. Sit with him/her while he/she plays and talk about what you are seeing in simple third person terms….”The man is hurting the little boy/girl.”
- Maintain a calm presence with the child. Talk about your own feelings about the abuse outside of the child’s presence.
- Avoid exposing the child to reminders of trauma.
- Expect temporary regression…it’s normal.
2 ½ to six years
- Maintain child’s routines. Create and stick to a regular schedule around meal times, naps, play times and bedtime. Create a bedtime ritual. This could involve bath, cuddling and story time.
- Listen to and tolerate the child’s retelling of the event either through play or talking about it. The more he or she talks about it, the better your child will be able to process what happened.
- Spend more time with your child doing calming and bonding activities…playing games, cooking together, watching favorite movies. Avoid unnecessary separations in the first several days.
- Provide extra comforts at night such as a nightlight, a new stuffed animal, and a special blanket.
- Protect the child from re-exposure to reminders of trauma. Avoid scary movies, stories and television programs.
- Expect regression and an increase in difficult behaviors. Maintain firm and gentle household rules.
- Avoid introducing the child to any new and/or challenging experiences until he or she feels more secure.
- Respect any new or increased fears (the dark, monsters). Provide support and engage in rituals to address the fears (nightlights, special blankets).
- Accept and allow the child to discuss and name strong feelings (the child will be unable to talk about these feelings for long.) If he/she seems reluctant, let him/her know you are willing to listen, but don’t push.
- If the child has nightmares, explain that the fears are what he/she feels inside, and aren’t real.
- Observe what triggers sudden fears or behavior problems so you can help prepare the child in advance.
6 to 12 years
- Listen to and understand the child’s need to retell the event.
- Respect the child’s fears – help him/her come up with skills when facing fears such as imagery, deep breathing, a mantra or prayer.
- Allow extra time at bedtime to cope with fears.
- The child may offer magical explanations or make up stories in order to fill in gaps of understanding. Gently fill in those gaps for the child by offering the correct information.
- Offer reassurance. If your child regresses to more babyish behavior such as bedwetting or returning to previous childhood fears, let him/ her know that this is normal after a frightening experience.
- Understand that spacey, forgetful or distractible behavior is normal. Help the child by using touch and offering specific instructions to help him or her accomplish tasks.
- Monitor the child’s play. Be alert for secretive reenactments of trauma with peers or siblings and set limits on scary or harmful play.
- If your child’s performance has lowered at school, talk with his or her teacher for extra help and support.
Pre-adolescents and Adolescents (12-18 years)
- Encourage your child to talk about the traumatic event with family. Don’t push. Give them space if they are not ready to talk.
- Help your child find alternative methods of self expression if talking is hard – journaling, dance or art can be helpful.
- Provide opportunities for your child to spend time with supportive friends, youth groups and adults who help your child feel safe and accepted. Try to keep your teen from isolating too much.
- Encourage physical activities such as sports or dancing.
- If your child is becoming rebellious, provide firm limits and consequences.
- The child may express a wish for revenge or to take some action. Help him or her understand that feelings of anger, shame, guilt and sadness are all normal reactions and will get better with time.
- If school performance is declining, provide structure around homework times. Talk with school counselor for additional support at school.
- With the support of friends and family, many children will recover within a few weeks to a few months. Some children may develop longer standing issues such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, depression or anxiety. In these cases, it is helpful to get the added support of a counselor who has experience working with children and family members who have been impacted by trauma.
Si Su Nino/a Es Asaltada/o Sexualmente
Si un niño/a indica de una manera indefinida que el abuso sexual ha occurido, este calmado/a, no haga comentario juiciosos, y animelo a hablar libremente.
Aqui hay algunas recomendaciones para ayudar al niño/a del abuso:
- Asegure al niño que el o ella hizo bien en avisarle.
- Digale al niño que el o ella no es culpable de abuso sexual.
- Revise como se siente el niño/a fisicamente.
- Le duele el cuerpo en algun lugar?
- Soporte a su niño/a.
- No enseñe coraje enfrente de su niña/o.
- No tenga miedo de enseñar afecion a su niña/o.
- Notifique a la policia, no sea usted la ley.
- Debe ir por ayuda psicologica.
- Contacte a su centro local de abuso sexual, busque el soporte para el niño/a y los padres.
Con el amor y soporte de adultos, como padres, profesores, y consejeros, niños pueden desenvuelver mucho mejor y resolver el trauma del abuso.
If you are in IMMEDIATE DANGER, please call 911
To speak to someone about DOMESTIC VIOLENCE, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-SAFE
To speak to someone about SEXUAL ASSAULT, call the National Sexual Assault hotline at 800-656-HOPE
To report CHILD ABUSE: If you or someone you know has reasonable belief that a child is being abused or neglected, please call the toll-free Arizona Child Abuse Hotline at 1-888-767-2445 or call your local law enforcement agency to make a report.