In my previous post, I talked about the proactive side of protecting our children from abuse. I shared some thoughts on the ways that we parent can better equip our children against abuse. You might be wondering how these last two posts relate to becoming kindred; I sit here with great sadness in my heart because I know that so many times despite our best efforts and our deepest desires to protect our children, they are not always protected. They are not always safe. Our children may experience things in life that are incredibly hard and that we as parents will hardly know how to respond, love, and connect with them through those painful things but this is a place where they need us to connect with them.
Abuse of children is far reaching with statistics and experience saying that for many of us, it will strike close to home. I think that it is important to note that abuse is abuse; there may be variance in the severity of what has occurred, but regardless, any loss of innocence will play a part in the shaping of your child. Keep in mind too, that abuse, including sexual, does not always occur between adult to child but also child to child or within a peer group. No matter the situation, the important thing to remember is that it is the child who has been wronged and they are the one who needs you. How you work through it with them will have a great impact.
Again, as I share my thoughts here it is from the perspective of a mother. I’m not a professional and what I can share here is limited and really only touches briefly on the initial stages of walking with your child through the abuse that they have experienced. May I encourage you that if you know or suspect that your child has been abused, be brave and get the help that you and your child will need. If you suspect the abuse of another child, you need to report it.
- You are your child’s advocate! If you suspect that your child has or is being abused, go to the correct authorities with your suspicions.
- Believe your child. If your child tells you even casually about an inappropriate touch, action, or even words, you need to have firmly in your mind that you BELIEVE them. It doesn’t matter if it is about the dearest person in the world to you, if your child tells you something, you need to listen up and find out more. They need hear you affirming that you believe them.
- Listen to your child. If you child makes any mention of someone doing something they don’t like, keep listening and encouraging them to talk. Be careful of how you question them because they will be easily shut down. Listen to their stories of dreams that they are having, stories that they tell, pictures that they draw. Keep your ears open as they play and talk with their toys or other little friends. Often children will tell another child or talk through play before they will talk to adults, including their parents. Don’t assume that they will tell you because it is very common that they actually won’t.
- Respond to nonverbal pleas. I had Aneliese in a class for a time and she absolutely loved it but suddenly she stopped wanting to go to the point where she would quickly become very upset. It didn’t take to long to realize that she had good reason, there was a helper who was very verbally aggressive. Because she was so little, she couldn’t verbalize how she felt but she could act it out. We are often encouraged to drop our kids off at Sunday school, kids program, day care, with the babysitter or at class and leave them. Perhaps there are times when that is needed but our children also need to know that we are going to respond to their cues. Did your child love going somewhere and now cries or doesn’t want to go? It is worth looking into. Another sign I had from Aneliese in regards to that class was what she acted out in play. She used words that we are careful not to use in regards to behavior and she had descriptions of how other children acted that were unfamiliar. Observe how your children play with their toys and others. Do they say or act out things they are unfamiliar to you?
- Trust your instincts. I’m not saying that the instant someone makes you uncomfortable that you run out and report them. But what I am saying is that you should listen to your instincts even if it is in relation to someone close to you. Do they offer close attention to particular children, do they use demeaning words, do they demand or plead for affection? Keep in mind that going with your instincts doesn’t mean that you are inferring that person is guilty. What it does mean is that you watch your children closely in their presence, you respond to the cues of your child, you might limit your child’s interaction with them even if your child really seems to love them. I realize that what I am going to say next could be construed as being gossip (!) but if you have real concerns of someone who is in a position of caring for children don’t be afraid to ask questions or to voice your concerns even to other parents. By being proactive, we really can prevent a lot.
- Affirm your child. Your child needs to know that no matter what has happened, they are not “bad”. They need to know that they are loved and valuable. They need to know that you will stand by them and stick up for them. They need to hear that if something has happened to them that it is not their fault, that they are not the ones who did wrong. They need to know that they have not displeased you. * For those of us who are living within a “Christian structure”, I would suggest looking very carefully at how we teach our children about God’s response to them. Often those who would abuse children within this structure will discourage children from telling of abuse being done to them by telling them that God is or will be displeased with them. We can combat this by teaching our kids that God sees them with love NO matter what and even that if ever someone does wrong to them or hurts them that God would be glad that they told someone because He doesn’t want them to let people hurt them.
- Control your reaction. While it’s important for your child to know that you are hurt and angry about what has been done to them, it is important that they know those feelings are not directed towards them. Especially if the abuse has come from a friend or family member, they may feel a sense of responsibility for the broken relationship. The child’s feeling of needing to fix the situation that can be intensified by your reaction.
- Guide your child toward healing. The steps of affirming your child, loving them, believing them, aren’t a one time thing; its an ongoing process. Even if they don’t speak of the abuse done to them, don’t assume that it is no longer affecting them. Depending on the abuse, there will likely be different stages of processing for a child as they progress through the developmental stages. As the parent, you need to educate yourself on those stages of processing so that you can effectively parent through it.
I know that as you are reading through this, it is possible that you are feeling weighed down; after all this is no longer about how we can protect our children but how we can walk through healing from abuse with them. I won’t try to give you any trite answers, this is a painful journey that we wish to spare our children from. Perhaps what I have shared is heavy for you but I want to say that it is not hopeless. Your beloved child can and will become beautiful and strong, hurt but undefined by the wrong done to them and the hateful choice another made. I hope that if you find this to be part of your story, that you will find your way to walking in healing and love.