As a parent, the thought of your child being hurt by anyone is unimaginable. Child sexual abuse is particularly destabilizing because 90% of the time it is someone you and your child know and trust. You would do anything for your child, but hearing of the abuse your child endured may leave you at a loss. You might be unsure of where to turn to next. Remember, you are your child’s biggest support throughout their healing process. While there are many ways to strengthen your child after the disclosure of sexual abuse, the following 4 guidelines are good places to start.
Child sexual abuse is an isolating experience. Your child may be feeling all alone. Some children are under the impression that this is something that has only happened to them and no one else. It is helpful for children to know that this is something that has happened, unfortunately, to other children, too. Statistically, one in five girls and one in twenty boys experience sexual abuse prior to 18 years old. Furthermore, many children struggle with big emotions, nightmares and anxiety after abuse. Becoming aware of typical trauma reactions to child sexual abuse is important. By educating yourself, you can more easily understand your child’s behavior and be supportive in your reactions. Additionally, you can help your child understand that they are having a normal reaction to a horrible experience.
Squash the Self-Blame
Many children may feel like the abuse was their fault. Your child may feel like there was something they could have done something to stop the abuse. It is important to let your child know that this was not their fault or responsibility. Perpetrators know that not only what they are doing is wrong, but also illegal. Some abusers may threaten the children with harsh consequences if they tell. For example, a perpetrator may tell a child that the family will break up if anyone finds out about the abuse. Of course, this is a heavy burden for the child to carry.
Furthermore, you may be feeling overwhelmed with feelings of guilt and self-blame. Many parents feel like they should have known and been able to protect their child. Perpetrators not only manipulate child victims, but also those who care for the child. It’s important for you to sort through these feelings, so they do not hinder your ability to support your child.
Praise Their Bravery
Let your child know that it took a lot of courage for them to share this with you. It is not uncommon for children to hold the abuse inside for long periods of time. Some individuals do not even speak of the abuse until well into adulthood. Furthermore, delayed disclosure of the abuse is not necessarily a reflection of your child’s relationship with you.
It is also important for you to know that your child’s story of what happened may also not come all at once. Your child may approach you multiple times disclosing new information about the abuse. Your continued support during this time is extremely important. There are many reasons why a child may not tell right away, such as fear, embarrassment, and confusion. Thank your child for disclosing the abuse in any way they were able to. Even if it was to a teacher, in a journal or to a friend.
Seek Professional Help
Even if you believe your child is coping well after the abuse, often times it has lingering effects on your child’s mind and body. Working with a psychotherapist who specializes in child sexual abuse is vital. Therapy can help heal these emotional wounds and be an empowering experience for your child. Some children and teens will say that they do not need therapy because they are doing fine on their own. However, you can explain that therapy as a special place, that is just for them. Therapy creates a space to talk about their feelings with someone who has worked with many children whom have had similar experiences. Furthermore, therapy does not mean that there is anything “wrong” with your child. Children deserve the opportunity to speak with someone who can help them through this trauma and ultimately flourish in life. And truth be told, so do you.
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Lisa is a Licensed Social Worker who is passionate about helping children, teens and adults. Lisa provides her clients with the skills to overcome low self-esteem and trauma of sexual abuse or pregnancy loss. In session, Lisa incorporates her training in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as well as mindfulness.