HOW CAN I HELP MY CHILD?
“Children will not remember you for the material things you provided but for the feeling that you cherished them”
Richard L Evans
I do not claim to know all things about the psychological effects that abuse has on children and how to help them through it, but these are some of the ideas that we have learnt to help our children through this.This is our experience as we walked the path that you are walking. Please feel free to contact us if you need to.
Please remember that all children are different and so each child will respond in different ways. The age of the child, how long the abuse went on for and the seriousness of the abuse will all be factors in the way a child will react. Who the perpetrator was may also be a big factor in the way a child responds. Generally, the closer the relationship to the child the greater the harm. But there is no set pattern, but you can expect your child to be angry, confused, upset and their erratic emotions may be directed towards you at times.
The most important thing that you can do for your child is to make sure you show them unconditional love. Make sure that they know that you love them in spite of what has happened and what ever will happen in the future and that nothing will ever stop you loving them. I cannot express this enough. They may feel that they are so ‘bad’ that no one could love them, they have lost your trust and that it wouldn’t take much for you to stop loving them completely. They need to feel secure in you. So even when they do wrong, they need to hear that you still love them even though there are consequences for their actions.
One thing we learnt was not to give in to all their demands because you want to give them things and allow them to do things to make them happy. I know how easy it is to feel sorry for them and want to replace the pain. But, these things are only a quick fix and then they’ll soon want something else. They have to understand and have boundaries for your sake as well as theirs. This was a tough job at first, but now, our eldest daughter appreciates that we gave her rules. She says that she understands that boundaries are only in place because we love her and want to keep her safe. Even though at the time she fought tooth and nail against them, and still does, frequently.
Our children had no idea about relational or sexual boundaries due to what they had been exposed to. They struggled as they thought that if they had boyfriends/girlfriends that they would be expected to do the same things as they did with the abuser. They didn’t understand that it was abnormal behaviour that they were exposed to. They felt that all people in trust were doing the same things as this person had done to them. They didn’t understand that ‘normal’ relationships were based on mutual respect of one another. So relational boundaries are very useful to put in to place whilst teaching them what is appropriate and what is not.
Keep on telling them how proud of them you are, for telling the truth and for just being them. They need to hear that they are good, that they are lovely and loveable. Continue to tell them that they are beautiful or handsome and that they are precious. They need to feel special and that they are completely trustworthy. Chances are they will tend to feel untrustworthy for not “keeping their secret” they may also feel like they have let you down for allowing these things to happen to them. Their confidence in who they are, may be as low as it can get, so if you can impart as many positive acclimations as possible without smothering them, this helps them to grow to like themselves.
A lot of children who have been abused do not have any self-respect. They sometimes don’t even like looking at themselves or washing themselves, they often don’t care what they look like or how they dress and don’t care how they behave in public or in private. Teaching them that they are beautiful and that they matter helps in this process. They need to understand how they look and how they behave is important for their healing and their future. If they have no respect for themselves they could begin to self-harm or even contemplate suicide, if they haven’t already. They are often not embarrassed about the way they behave so they don’t care if they behave inappropriately. They need to feel loved for them to learn self-respect.
Be there for them
Another important point to make, is that you need to tell them that you are there for them. When they need to talk about what happened, even if it hurts you to hear what they are saying, try not to show it in your body language or your face, allow them to express themselves with out feeling condemned. I know that most parents wouldn’t mean to make them feel that way on purpose, but when your child discusses some things that are painful for you to hear and you pull a face in disgust, they may feel that you would be aiming it at them rather than the person who did it to them. And this will alienate them and they will feel that they can’t talk to you either because they are scared of hurting you anymore or because you make them feel bad. Don't ask lots of questions but allow them to tell you in their time. Please remember that if your child discloses more information then you need to pass this on to the police or the social services. They need to know that they are the most important thing to you and that you’ll do anything for them even listening to what has happened. Just remember, even though you may not want to hear the full gory details, this is all part of their healing process. What the children have a tendency to do is to test you out with pieces of information to see if you are able and willing to listen and be there for them. Secrecy turns to shame and along with the abuse shame can be the cause long term damage. Adult survivors of child sexual abuse suggest that when children are listened to and justice is done long term damage is kept to a minimum.
Purposeful BehaviourOne thing that our son said to us, while we were writing this, was that we must mention that sometimes they behave in ‘weird’ ways for a purpose.
Whatever the child’s behaviour may be, as you allow your child to feel like they can trust you enough to talk about anything without feeling embarrassed and you give your child a safe environment for them to 'vent' and talk about their behaviour. They become able to rediscover themselves and feel more confident in whom they are as an individual. Our son said that being able to talk to us without it going any further helped him know that he could be held accountable for his actions without feeling condemned; this gave him the confidence to move on. He also said that he was scared at first to talk about his behaviour in case we lost respect for him and would make him feel silly and embarrassed. He was thankful that the first time he spoke to us we made him feel loved and cared for. Even though he thought that we may have lost respect for him, he knew deep down that we hadn't. As time went by though, because we never treated him differently and we still spent time with him, then he knew for definite that our feelings hadn't changed toward him and he was able to come to terms with all the things that had happened to him in his own time without the feeling of being punished for his strange behaviour. Obviously some behaviour needs professional help e.g. self-harming so don’t think you can handle them all by yourselves.
After being sexually abused children maybe feeling very confused on a lot of different levels. One particular day after finding some ‘weird goings on’ with our 13 year old son, we asked him if he liked girls, after he confirmed that he did, we were then able to say to him that he was not ‘gay’ because of what had happened to him. We remember him sigh with relief and say ‘thank you’. He was so confused, that he had begun to question his sexuality. These children need to hear that they are ok, and that their behaviour, even though isn’t the ‘norm’ is normal for children that are dealing with the issues that they are having to cope with. They need to feel affirmed as a boy/girl and as a human! If they don't get affirmation at home they will seek it in some other place and that is where they will find themselves in situations that could be more harmful, for example you may find them with an unwanted pregnancy etc.
'Damaged Goods Syndrome'
It is very common for girls especially to think that once they have lost their virginity it is all right to be promiscuous as they see themselves as 'unpure' or dirty so what's the point of saving themselves, this is called Damaged Goods Syndrome. So it is important for them to realise that their virginity can not be taken from them only given by them. So they are still whole and pure.
Another problem we had to face was that our children really suffered from sleepless nights. When they did sleep it was restless and quite often riddled with bad dreams and nightmares. We searched for ways to ease this; one-way that helped was that they had a radio or music player playing softly in the background. This just took the quietness of night away and allowed them to feel comforted by the music. (Obviously the kind of music must be taken into consideration for instance; heavy metal or very depressing songs wouldn’t be appropriate). They needed to know that they were free to come into our bedroom when they needed to, sometimes this was just to know that they were safe. They came in sometimes just to have a hug and then went back to bed again, or even just to check that we were still there. Our kids really appreciated us praying with them, it helped them feel that when they were alone in their room they we’re being looked after.
In time your child may benefit from professional counselling, counselling helps all children to talk openly about what happened but, at first they may not be ready. Don't be surprised if you struggle to receive counselling until after the trial as the authorities worry about coaching before the court case. The welfare of the children should be paramount so be prepared to fight your corner if need be. You will be in the best position to understand the real needs of your child. Don't give up if you believe your child needs some professional help, keep insisting until it comes.
Do not be afraid to talk openly and honestly to the Social Services. They are used to dealing with families in crises and will deal sensitively with you. Do not be afraid that they will rush in and take over. Social Services are trained to be helpful and considerate in dealing with you and your family.
Helping YourselfMAKE SURE YOU AS WELL AS YOUR CHILDREN ARE BEING CARED FOR: Your children need you to be strong and healthy not just physically but emotionally as well. You may be feeling overwhelmed by your own emotions, Anger, sadness, loneliness and shame are all normal feelings for parents and so is guilt as you feel responsible for protecting your children. YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
Do not harbour secret feelings of revenge - express them in a safe environment with people you know you can trust.You can not lead your child to a place where you've never been yourselves, it is natural to want to see restoration and healing in your child but you need to start with yourselves. Your child may not heal or cope with things at the same time as you.