How to talk to your child about abuse

Tips for How to Answer When Your Child Starts Processing the Abuse.

Trauma in a family brings a flooding of confusing and intense emotions into the home. Some days these emotions can feel very overwhelming, and some days it’s easier to contain.

For many families with children who have been abused or traumatized, it could feel like the calm before the storm. Everything seems fine for a few days and then, BAM! The child begins to process and discuss the trauma with caregivers and caregivers feel that intense flooding of pain again.

flooded room

Sometimes, a child won’t choose to talk about the abuse in therapy, but during play therapy, the abuse is subconsciously processed, and sometimes kids will begin talking about the abuse at home. This sometimes throws parents off-guard. Working in a practice helping families who have suffered from abuse, I’ve come across this concern in many families.

Take a look at one of my other blogs on what you can be doing at home and in therapy for your child.

Here are some basic things to keep in mind if your child begins to open the flood-gates of unfolding and processing the trauma.

1.Assess your Surroundings

Where are you with your child? A lot of parents have a fear that their child will start asking questions or talking about the abuse in front of people that the parents don’t want to know.

If the answer is at a family reunion, then you’ll need to gently stop your child and let your child know that you’ll talk to them about it when you get home.

2. Listen

[bctt tweet=”To listen is not to speak.”]
To listen is to not speak. This includes the internal chatter and panic that may automatically run through your mind. Silence this inner voice, and listen to what your child is telling you.

3. Reflect, Clarify (Don’t Question)

It is important to separate what happened to the child from the identity of the child. Some children will say, “I used to be normal” or “I did something bad, and that makes me bad.”

Be very clear when you’re answering your child that the abuse does not define your child. Or use the child’s own words, “Just because something bad happened to you, does not make you bad.”

Parents can take this time to teach the child the differences between good touches and bad touches. “This is mommy’s bathing suit area, and that is yours. Nobody except mommy or daddy (or the doctor if he is checking you) is allowed to see or touch those parts.”

4. Reassure

For example, “I am so sorry that happened to you, but you are okay now.”

The key here is reflect (“I am sorry that happened to you, or what happened to you was not appropriate”) followed by “But” and the reassuring statement (“You are safe now”).

About Attachment

Children have a vision of their parents as perfect protectors. We all experience trauma, or tough situations, in which our parents (because they’re human!) cannot or are not able to protect us. Children with secure attachments will feel disappointment, but be able to grow and learn from these experiences. Children without secure attachments will feel betrayal or mistrust towards the parent.

Children learn to regulate emotions through their parents. It may take some time for the child to develop and repair the lost trust, but through working through your own trauma or issues, and learning to control your own emotions and reactions, the child will be able to regulate his/her emotions.

Note: This blog was written with the assumption that the abuse has already been reported. If not, please call the Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD.

This Post Has 7 Comments

  1. Lynn Louise Wonders

    Good advice! Parents need this kind of information! Thanks for writing this!

    1. theplaytherapist

      Thank you, Lynn. So glad you enjoyed this blog!

  2. Kim Martinez

    Good information for parents of children coping with trauma.

    1. theplaytherapist

      Children need a lot of support when coping with trauma. Thanks, Kim!

  3. Rose

    Helpful information on how to respond to your child

  4. Rachel Full Cup

    A much needed article. Thank you! It can feel very overwhelming when this happens to a family. I’m sure parents will really appreciate your guidance in this article (along with their own therapist of course). Thanks again 🙂

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