Summary: How to respond when a child tells you about abuse or inappropriate behavior. Tips on how to listen to a child who is reporting abuse; and what to do with the information given from the child.

DON’T: Do not interrogate or prod a child to provide information or details regarding abuse, or related issues. You do not want to further traumatize the child, and may want to seek the help of a trained child therapist instead. Asking questions may also undermine the child’s story if you are later accused of “coaching” or “influencing” the child.

DO: Listen, remain neutral and offer your support. Seek a therapist or qualified professional to assist the child with coping with the abuse, and processing what happened. A therapist will be trained to help the child develop coping skills with the trauma and emotions related to the abuse, and will also be able to help with other issues that arise. Therapists are trained to work in an age appropriate, child friendly manner–which may include play therapy, pet therapy, sensory therapy etc.

DON’T: Minimize, deny, contradict the child’s reporting. Don’t make excuses for the alleged abuser. You may consider seeking support for yourself, and helping to cope with the abuse–parenting group, friend/family, therapy, religious support, domestic violence agency, legal help are just some examples of support available.

DO: Reassure to the child they are safe, the child did the right thing in disclosing the abuse and the child is not fault for the abuse. Once the child has reported abuse to you, be sure to get help (crisis center, police, therapist, etc). 

DON’T: Ridicule, punish or “try to straighten out” a child who is acting out or having behavioral or emotional problems due to abuse or trauma. Children are often unable to verbally express their feelings so they resort to acting out. Some may interpret this as “bad” behavior, when in truth the child is hurting.

DO: Pay attention to signs of distress in the child, changes in behavior or mood because children are not always able to verbally express what is wrong. Warning signs of abuse include: regression (acting younger than actual age or reverting to a babyish state), strong reactions or aversions, changes in toileting or bathing, nightmares, violent or aggressive play and sudden or unexplained changes in mood or behavior. If you are unsure of what to do, seek advise of a professional.

You can call ChildHelp USA at: 1-800-4ACHILD or http://www.childhelp-usa.com/

Or seek local resources for help

*Advice from How to Listen*

Tips:

  1. Make it clear that the child can tell you anything. Make sure they know they’re safe in telling you this.
  2. The child may worry that you will find them repulsive after they admit to sexual abuse. Make it clear that your love and respect and concern have only increased.
  3. Do not handle this by yourself. Find an expert in the area. Find a child abuse crisis center or hotline, and get expert advice.
  4. Never minimize the child’s experiences. You have been chosen to receive an incredible leap of faith. Be honored. Show that you are worthy of receiving it.
  5. Act. Find experts and act. Cancel your meetings, cancel your vacation, postpone your wedding. Nothing is more important than this. Act!

What You Need:

  • a cool head
  • a caring heart
  • honesty
  • expert advice
  • courage
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