For many of us, we remember our childhood fondly with images of birthday parties, family holidays or playing in the park with friends. But for approximately 6 million children in the United States this year, their childhood will also include memories of abuse.
It’s impossible to understand why anyone would want to harm an innocent child, yet every year approximately 3 million cases of child abuse and neglect are reported in the United States. When you’re in contact with children, whether they’re children of your own, children in your extended family or children you interact with through the course of employment or volunteer work, a child that’s been a victim of abuse may decide to divulge to you their experience of abuse or neglect.
As the child is talking to you, be silent and listen. Let them talk freely. When they pause or stop talking, your calm silence and attention may prompt them to say more.
As the child is talking, it’s important to stay calm and steady, yet caring. Don’t cry, get upset or display any negative emotion as they may feel they’re being punished or shamed. It’s natural for you to feel upset or angry, but be sure to express your anger or upset to the appropriate people.
When you speak or ask questions of the child, be aware of your tone. Ask questions for the purpose of reporting pertinent details to the proper authorities, and avoid leading questions. Open-ended questions are best.
Believe the child’s report, and let them know they are believed. Now is not the time to assess validity, determine details or do detective work. You might want to say something such as, “I believe you. It’s good that you told me.”
Re-establish safety with the child by reassuring them that they are loved and cared for, and that they did nothing wrong and are not in trouble. Free them from self-blame by letting them know it isn’t their fault. You can say something such as, “Nothing that happened is your fault” or “You did nothing to make this happen.”
Don’t restrict the child from play or fun activities unless necessary for their safety. They may see restrictions as punishment.
Do not alert or confront the alleged offender. Call the local police or Child Protective Services/Department of Children and Family Services in your area as soon as possible to make a report.
Above all, it’s important that the child receives support and assistance immediately. If your child or a child you know has been the victim of abuse and you need the help of a licensed professional, please contact me today to set up an appointment.
Harini Sukumaran is a Qualified Mental Health Professional and certified Ayurvedic Physician who is passionate about helping children to become less stressed by giving them and their parents tools, support and encouragement. Her passion also includes helping Women suffering from trauma, depression, anxiety and Pregnancy/Postpartum mood disorders. She received her Master’s of Science in Counseling Psychology and Master’s in Marriage, Couple’s and Family Counseling with special concentration in Children (Play Therapy), Women and Families