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When a Child Tells: Responding to a Child’s Disclosure of Abuse

By Eric Hollis
© ChildForum

 

supporting children who have been abusedWhen a child discloses sexual abuse, it will always be distressing. It is natural for adults to feel at a loss to know how best to respond.

The information provided here covers how to listen and respond to a child who tells you, or hints in even a vague way, that she/he or someone they know has been abused, what you can do to help, and whom to contact and go to for further advice and help.

 

Listening to the Child and How Best to Respond

When a child tells you that abuse has occurred, allow the child to talk about it. Let the child see that you are listening and paying attention. 

  • Do not question the child
  • If you don’t know what to say, echo back the child’s own words
  • Do not deny the problem or blame the child
  • Stay calm! If you get upset or angry, it may frighten the child
  • Try to talk quietly with the child
  • Tell the child he or she did nothing wrong
  • Tell the child you will do your best to make him/her safe
  • Tell the child he or she did the right thing to tell you
  • Take care not to make judgmental comments that could potentially lead to the child refusing to tell you more or changing what he/she had wanted to tell you.

Show that you understand and take seriously what the child is saying. Assure the child that he/she did the right thing in letting you know what happened. Talk about secrets that are good to keep and secrets that should not be kept when a person has been bad to you or hurt you in some way.

When a child tells someone about abuse, a supportive, caring response is the first step in getting help for the child and re-establishing his or her trust in adults.

 

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