This guest piece was written by Chris Yadon, a managing director of Saprea, an organization that works with child abuse survivors.
How to Respond When You Suspect Your Child Has Been Sexually Abused
By Chris Yadon, Managing Director of Saprea
Statistically, one in five children will be sexually abused by the time they turn 18.
Children who are sexually abused often have long-lasting effects associated with the trauma, including difficulty in school, challenges with sleep and/or eating, and an increased likelihood of substance abuse—all things that no child should ever have to endure. Here’s what you can do if you suspect your child has been sexually abused.
Parents want the best for their children. Fortunately, there are many things parents can do to create a safe environment for their loved ones.
At Saprea, we understand that this can feel overwhelming and complex, especially if you or someone you love was abused as a child. That’s why we’ve read through the research to find the best ways that you, a loving, concerned parent, can reduce the risk of child sexual abuse.
Reducing the risk of sexual abuse
Our approach to reducing the risk of sexual abuse is comprehensive: we believe that proactive parents teach their children age-appropriate information about sexuality and nurture their child’s capability and self-esteem.
Our free online prevention resources at Saprea.org provide parents with tips, tools, or information that can help parents take little actions every day that will yield big benefits for their children.
For example, picture a scenario where your child just asked you a question about an unhealthy or harmful sexual behavior, or they’ve exhibited an unhealthy or harmful sexual behavior, or they’re confessing that someone has been making them feel uncomfortable and they want to tell you all about it.
In any of these three scenarios, you want to respond and not react.
When you react you do so without thinking; you’ll say or do things based on the moment and the emotions you’re feeling and you may end up doing or saying something you regret. When you respond, it leads to an open conversation and will cultivate trust between you and your child.
Here are five ways to respond to your child if they have questions about sexual behavior.
1. Take a deep breath.
It will give you a moment to pause, process what’s happening, and decide how you need to handle the situation.
2. Pay attention to emotions.
Your child may be nervous or upset, be sensitive to that. Your own emotions may begin to run high, but you need to keep them in check. Responding in a controlled and kind way is important so that you do not shut your child down. The worst scenario is a highly emotional reaction that teaches your child not to talk with you next time there is a problem.
It’s difficult to listen, especially if you’d rather not hear the things your child is saying or asking. Don’t interrupt them, let them talk as much as they want to before you respond.
4. Validate them.
Recognize how difficult it may be for them to talk to you. Let them know how much you appreciate their trust in you. Assure them that you are there to help.
5. Set or reinforce expectations.
If you are trying to curb an unhealthy behavior, set up the parameters or reinforce your guidelines. If you are trying to limit their exposure to a certain thing, let them know about that change. If you are planning on keeping them away from the person who made them feel uncomfortable, be honest with them about it.
Keep listening, keep talking
As you learn to respond instead of react to these types of conversations it will keep an ongoing dialogue with your child about healthy and unhealthy sexual behaviors.
It’s one of the most important things you can do to keep your child safe from sexual abuse. It will also open the door for your children to come to you and trust you when they have questions about sex and not rely on others. These conversations may make you feel uncomfortable at first, but make sure you keep going.
They’re important for your child, and for you, and will benefit you both.
At Saprea, we provide free online prevention resources for parents and caregivers to protect their loved ones from child sexual abuse. The primary caregiver is the best line of defense against child sexual abuse. To learn more visit Saprea.org.
Saprea exists to liberate individuals and society from child sexual abuse and its lasting impacts. We provide healing educational retreats in Utah and Georgia, survivor support groups around the world, and online healing resources for adult female survivors. We also provide online prevention resources and community education courses/materials for parents and caregivers to reduce the risk of abuse from occurring. To learn more visit Saprea.org.
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