thing that many people do not know about abused children is that they
often love the person who is hurting them. This is very hard to believe
but it is true. This happens because the person who is abusing them is
often someone they know well and trust a lot. Children are therefore hesitant
to reveal that they are being abused because they fear that they will
get the person into trouble if they do so. Another reason for children
not wanting to disclose abuse is that many times they have been frightened
or threatened by the abuser.
children in your care love and trust you. A child who
has been abused may start talking to you about it. He may do so because
he trusts you and wants to share the burden he is carrying with you. Hearing
a child talking about being abused is very difficult. You may react in
different ways. Your reaction is very important to the child. If you react
with disgust or don’t believe what he is saying, he may stop talking
to you about it. He will feel that you don’t trust him. This will
prevent him from getting help. It also prevents the abuse from stopping.
Be very sensitive and listen carefully
when a child is talking to you about abuse. Keep in mind that it is very
difficult for the child to talk about being abused. This is especially
hard for children who have been sexually
abused. The child has gathered up all her courage to tell you about
the abuse. How you handle the conversation will determine how you will
be able to help the child.
Keep the following considerations in mind when talking
to a child who is disclosing abuse:
Help the child feel comfortable. Talking about abuse is not easy
for the child. Respect the child’s privacy and talk to him in a
quiet and private place. The place should be familiar to the child. This
will help the child feel comfortable.
• Reassure the child that it is
not her fault. Most children who are abused feel, or are told by
their abusers, that they are to blame for their own abuse. It is very
important to tell the child that she is not guilty and that she is not
responsible for the abuse. Let them know that they have not done anything
• Don’t react with
shock, anger, disgust. Your reaction to that the child tells you
is very important to the child. He will be watching your reaction closely.
Be calm. When you react with disgust or anger, he will not feel comfortable
talking to you anymore. He may also feel scared and confused. This will
prevent you from acting promptly and getting help immediately.
• Don’t force a child to
talk. Give the child time. Let her talk to you at her own pace. If
the child is unwilling to talk or seems uncomfortable, don’t pressurize
her to do so. If the child seems uncomfortable when talking about certain
specific things, don’t press her for details. You can change the
topic to something that the child is more comfortable talking about.
• Don’t force a child to
show injuries. If the child is willing to show you his injuries,
you may allow him to do so. However, when a child is unwilling to show
you his injuries, you may not insist that he do so. Also, you cannot insist
that a child take off his clothing so that you can see his injuries.
• Use terms and language that
the child can understand. If the child says something that you don’t
understand, like a word for a body part, ask the child to explain or to
point to the body part. Don’t correct or make fun of the words the
child is using. When you use the same words as the child does, it helps
the child feel less confused and more relaxed. The child will feel that
you understand him.
• Don’t ‘interview’
the child. The purpose of your discussion with the child is to gather
enough information so that you can make an informed report to the local
CPS agency or to your supervisor. When you have the information you need,
you must stop the discussion. Don’t try to prove that abuse has
• Ask appropriate questions.
The questions that you ask the child must be appropriately worded. Choose
your language carefully. This ensures that you get correct information
from the child. For example, if you see a bruise on a child and you suspect
that it is the result of abuse, you may say to the child, “That
looks painful. Do you want to tell me how you got it” or “Do
you want to talk about that bruise you have”. It would be inappropriate
to say, “Did you get that bruise when someone hit you?” Remember
that you can do more harm by supplying a child with words and ideas. Let
the child tell her own story and give you the answers.
• Don’t ask ‘why’
questions. Why questions like, “Why did he hit you?”
or “Why she do that?” will only confuse a child more. Remember
that children who are abused often do not understand why it is happening.
These types of questions will force them to think about the reasons for
the abuse. ‘Why’ questions also will not give you any helpful
• Don’t teach the child
new terms or words. Don’t teach the child new words or give
her new ideas. This is harmful. When you do this, you are biasing the
child. Also, when you teach a child a new term or word, you are changing
the child’s original disclosure. This is important in relation to
the court and law.
• Find out what the child wants
from you. A child may ask you to promise not to tell anyone. He may
ask you to take him home with you. He may ask you what you are going to
do. It is good to know what the child is expecting from you. This will
help you in deciding what your course of action should be.
• Be honest with the child.
Let the child know what you are going to do. This will build trust. Be
honest about what you can do for him. Don’t promise him things that
cannot be done. For example- let him know that you may have to tell someone
so that he will not be hurt anymore. Then he will not be surprised or
afraid when he finds out that someone knows.
• Confirm the child’s feelings.
Let the child know that it is okay to feel scared, hurt, confused or angry.
• Be supportive. Let the
child know that you are glad she told you about the abuse. Let her know
that you believe her and that you care about her. Some children may think
that you will not like them anymore because of what they told you. Assure
her that you are still her friend.
• Remember: the safety of the
child is most important. Be sensitive to and aware of the child’s
safety. Keep in mind that a child might be further abused if he reports
that he has spoken to someone about the abuse. If you feel that the child
is in danger, you must contact CPS immediately.
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Talking to parents about child