Guidance for Parents of Sexually Abused Children

You are not alone. My hope is that you will discover that the love you have for your child can and will move you forward, that courage will prevail during this difficult time, and that strength will arise from places deep within for what you are experiencing now and forever.

The immense weight of the protective parent's acknowledgment of the abuse will initially feel like too much to bear, but you will survive. You have already moved into the healing phase although you will not recognize it because the hurt is so deep and so very intense. Truly, in order to move forward, it requires that both the parent and the child be nurtured and cared for gently after such an assault, as both have suffered severe trauma.

By searching for knowledge you will gain the wisdom required to help yourself and your child move through this mind altering emotional pain. You will find the truth of what you need to do as it will resonate within you when you read it or hear it. You will also find a certain knowing when you listen deeply to the voice and actions of your child, as it is then with great thought that you will seek to learn how to respond to them and to understand. It is a very delicate dance.

You, as the protective parent are the most important person in your child's life. Just one loving person, just one, can make all the difference in the world. You are the difference. You and your child can and will live into the future and there is much you can do to help them and yourself live successfully. The biggest steps have been taken and that is your belief that your child was hurt and that the sexual abuse has stopped.

By working with parents of sexually abused children I have witnessed an overwhelming destructive sense of self-blame resulting from the discovery of their child's abuse. Trauma creates deep wounding that requires enormous conscious effort from which to heal. Sexual trauma is a REAL injury created through no fault of your child. And never was it your fault, ever. You are innocent and so is your child.

Uncomfortable thoughts and feelings will arise, you can be sure of this. The most common feelings are listed below.

Guilt: Parental feelings of guilt may ensue when you begin to remember and connect your child's past maladaptive behaviors to when your child was with the sexual predator. Anger, guilt, and grief will be felt with these realizations. This is very normal. Speak these memories out loud to someone you trust; a spouse, partner, counselor or clergy member so those realizations do not consume you.  Know that guilt is always elicited when you look back over time, as guilt is associated with our past, where we feel we have failed somehow. Try to understand deeply that guilt is an unproductive emotion which serves no purpose, as the past cannot be changed, and thoughts of the past can hold you as a prisoner.

Rage: As you acknowledge the painful awareness that your child has been greatly harmed you may experience a tremendous amount of chemical flooding in your body from stress hormones; such as cortisol, and adrenalin. These chemicals are released during a life threatening experience, in this case, the threatened life of your beloved child. Most often it is the fight aspect of the chemical surges within the body that will be the most prominent and difficult to deal with. These chemicals often trigger thoughts of revenge, death, and destruction to the sexual perpetrator. This is normal and will abate over time, but these thoughts and feelings will be revisited periodically throughout your child's lifetime and yours, often manifesting if and when you notice maladaptive behaviors, which relate to the abuse of your child.  (Therapeutic tools for healing are listed at the end of this document.)

Anger: Anger is an appropriate feeling, as anger comes forth within our body for protection. Use anger wisely as this powerful force can be used to help put the perpetrator in prison. Fifteen out of sixteen sexual predators will never spend a day in jail. At a later time, you may wish to use this energy constructively to change judicial laws for harsher punishments to sexual predators. You might also choose to use your anger to increase awareness of the most under reported crime in America. Try to direct your anger by keeping the bigger picture in mind which you will live into, the picture of societal change.

Grief: Grief needs to be felt fully as you recognize the lost innocence, the pain, and suffering that your child endured. Sorrow will be felt when you realize that you were not there to protect them. You may also experience grief surrounding your relationship with the sexual predator if he or she was a loved and trusted family member, babysitter, or friend. Grief is normal and is an emotion you will move in and out of. Remember, the sexual predator used his or her love and trust for manipulating you and your child and they are masters at their game; usually twenty steps ahead of most people's thinking. No parent and I emphatically mean no parent believes that someone they trust or love would do anything to harm their child to this great degree. Since these thoughts do not exist, parents are unaware. The majority of us are unaware, hence the enormous lack of reporting and end to this horrific crime. What we do not see does not exist until our awareness allows it. Sexual abuse of a child is an unbelievable act. However, 1 out of 6 boys and 1 out of 4 girls are sexually assaulted before adulthood. Your new knowledge and awareness can help other children. You have been given the gift of awareness, although in this moment it will not feel like a gift; later you will realize the immense power of your awareness.

Therapeutic Suggestions

It is important to prepare yourself with specific parenting skills, much like the parents of an autistic child prepares by searching for effective life enriching parental tools. By implementing some of the below techniques you as the parent will begin to feel powerful again instead of the powerlessness you may be feeling. As an adult you have an advantage as you can read and search for meaningful ways to guide you and your child through this difficult time. Your young child is unable to do this. You are their guide.  

Since fear and terror were the predominant feelings generated within your child then safety, love, and positive feedback by verbalizing their strengths and gifts will be the antidote for their fearful feelings.

  1. Verbalize to your child that they can take a shower or bath whenever they want to. Tell them that after sexual abuse they may feel dirty, this is normal and it is okay for them to shower or bathe. You might want to install a lock on the bathroom door. Tell them that their feelings of safety are why the lock is being installed. They can use the lock if that will help them feel safer. This may be especially useful if the abuse happened in the bathroom where the predator came in to help them clean their bottom, but instead sexually assaulted them, children are often sexually assaulted while bathing in the bathtub as well. Both are vulnerable positions for children which predators unfortunately prey on, especially family members and babysitters.

  2. Tell your child that their anger is normal. Take your child to the indoor or outdoor swimming pool. Tell them they can hit the water with their hands and legs to release their anger. Your child will have anger. This anger requires redirecting by the parent in a safe productive way. Strong physical activity will help their bodies regulate after trauma. Some ideas would be running, jumping, hitting a pillow or any safe action that can provide release. Remember they have feelings within of being trapped physically. Their physical body has to be addressed. Strong physical activity will help you as well. Be aware, however, that predators hang out in places where children play. Avoid sending your young son or daughter into the locker room without an adult present. Predators often target children who have already been abused and/or are children of single parents. How they know this I do not know. They have a sixth sense for it. You are not paranoid but must be very wise.

  3. Set aside time each week for family meetings to talk about feelings. Let the child or children take turns reading age appropriate spiritual material which has to do with love. (If your child is too young to read, picture books can be helpful.) Discuss the reading by having each family member speak without interruption about how they interpreted the spiritual reading. Have the child say what the reading meant to them. Expect chaos with the child as they struggle to regulate their emotions. It is common that sexually abused children may demonstrate regressive behavior. They typically regress at these times. This is normal and requires enormous patience. Don't give up on this most important weekly activity. I suggest that you continue these family meetings for the duration of your child's life.  You are establishing a positive connection with your child by doing this and it will last a lifetime.

  4. Set aside some time each week to teach your child to love life by going on outings in nature. One suggestion might be to teach them to listen to birds to identify their songs. Chickadees and robins are abundant and easy to identify in many areas. Your child's connection to something bigger and beautiful is extremely important and will be used by them later in life. Nature is a balm which soothes the here and now. You are healing yourself and your child when you do this. You are parenting for their future as well as the now.

  5. Once the sexual abuse has stopped and your child is aware that the predator is caught they may regress. Bed wetting, constant changing of their underwear may happen. He or she may talk baby talk. They may begin to suck their thumb again. They may have nightmares. As a parent you will need to allow them to regress, they will move through this at their own pace. You will feel emotional pain as you witness your child behaving in this way but it is important for them to pass through this crucial stage of regression if your child is demonstrating their pain this way. Know that regression is a part of their healing. Refrain from correcting this behavior. Provide the utmost safe environment in the home at this time. Ask them each morning after they have awakened if they have had dreams. Write down their dreams. Ask them if they would like to draw their dreams. Save these writings and drawings to share with their counselor and/or for later therapy in their adult life. This material will help them move through their trauma easier now and later in life. Be strong.

  6. Tell your child's teacher and the schools administration about your child's sexual abuse and who the predator was. Make time to tell your child and their teacher that your child may need to lie down during the day while at school and/or may have other special needs at this time. It is critical to provide extra rest opportunities as the child's brain and body have been overwhelmed from the abuse and the apprehension of the perpetrator. Handle this delicately to ensure that your child's needs are met with care and not judgment. Check with the teacher and your child often to see how your child is progressing.

  7. It would be good for you to learn the psychosocial and cognitive stage your child was in when the abuse was taking place. From birth to age seven is the most detrimental. At this stage of their life the child typically internalizes the abuse as their fault, that there is something wrong with them and/or that they are bad. It is guaranteed that the sexual predator also used his or her manipulative skills to make the child feel they were to blame. Learn each psychosocial and cognitive stage your child is entering into. Moving into adolescence will be difficult after early childhood sexual abuse as this is when they will struggle with their sexual identity and esteem. Your child's frontal lobe, the area of the brain that provides reasoning is not fully developed until age twenty-one for girls and twenty-five for boys. Your child's psyche is very, very  vulnerable during adolescence therefore instilling safety within the home is as critical now, as it was when they were an infant.

    Provide books on sexual development and psychological counseling at this critical stage for yourself and your child. Do not make the mistake of never speaking about the sexual abuse again. It happened, it matters. An example of a conversation with your child may sound like this: "Because of the abuse that happened to you when you were little it may be harder for you to handle your sexual feelings. To help you through this there are books, and counselors trained to help you. Which would you like to start with?"

  8. You may want to provide a puppy or a kitten for your child to care for. This new little bundle of joy will give them unconditional love and will teach them how to care for a living life responsibly. If you cannot afford a new mouth to feed there are organizations with money to help you because of your great need.  Adding this new little member to your family will comfort you and your child.

  9. Provide fun stimulation for your child through your school, city, or county's learning enrichment programs. Scholarships are available if you cannot afford these activities. People donate their money to these organizations for you and your children. Ask for information on scholarships if there is a need. Dance, sports, learning a new language with other children will give them a sense of belonging, provide learning, fun and will build outside relationships and trust. Facilitators of these classes are usually screened but it is okay to ask if you have any concerns. Talk to other parents to find out who their child has loved to learn from. Choosing caring adults will be very helpful.

  10. To help you and your child move through your feelings of guilt, anger, and grief you both need to feel safe and re-build trust from other caring adults. You will want to seek skilled professionals who have mastered EMDR, EFT, neuro-optimal (neuro-feedback), Psych-K, cognitive re-training, and craniosacral therapy. Seek professionals who are extremely knowledgeable about sexual abuse. In my opinion, all of these therapeutic approaches are critical for healing the brain and body now and periodically throughout you and your child's life. Childhood sexual abuse is monumental and will be even more destructive within your child if you pretend it didn't happen. Your child may look physically well on the outside, but within lies the diminished self-esteem and negative self-talk unseen to the naked eye.  You must act with all the tools you can possibly acquire to diminish the future effects on your child from their sexual assaults.

Beyond the news and newspapers there is a powerful hidden force rising up against sexual predators and it is gaining momentum. Know that you are not alone.

There is much more to know and understand about this complex and mind altering experience. It is beyond the scope of my website to reflect all that you will need to do.

"The depth of darkness of which you can descend and still live is the exact measure of the height which you can aspire to reach."  Pliny the Elder

Please do not hesitate to contact me for more information.