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What should I do when a child is disclosing abuse?

The following points may be useful when a child is disclosing abuse:
  • Avoid denial. A common reaction to a child’s disclosure is denial. Respect the child by listening to what he or she has to say and taking what the child says seriously. Believe what the child is telling you.
  • Provide a safe environment.
  • Reassure the child. Reassure the child that he or she did nothing wrong and that you believe him or her.
  • Listen and don’t make assumptions. Listen more than you talk, and avoid advice-giving or problem-solving. Don’t put words in your child’s mouth or assume you know what he or she means or is going to say. Let the child use language they are comfortable with. Let the child set the pace, don’t rush him or her.
  • Do not interrogate. Don’t ask the child a lot of questions, especially leading questions, which means a question in which you provide a possible answer. This can be confusing for the child and he or she might shut down. Don’t ask the child for too many details. This can make it harder for the child to tell you about the abuse.
  • Listen to the child, letting him or her explain what happened in his or her own words.
  • Make no promises. Don’t tell the child that you won’t tell anyone what they tell you. The child will have fears about what will happen next, so tell the child what you are going to do, what is going to happen next and who else they will need to talk to. This will help the child feel some control over what happens next within the boundaries of the law.
  • Document exact quotes when you can do so comfortably. It may be helpful to write down exact quotes of what the child said in case of the involvement of other parties, such as school or child protective services.
  • Be supportive, not judgmental. Don’t talk negatively. Even though the child may be disclosing terrible things that may have happened at the hands of a family member or friend, the child may still love that person and may only just be beginning to recognize that he or she was being abused.
  • Reassure the child that he or she is not at fault and have done nothing wrong. Don’t ask questions that imply the child was at fault, like why didn’t you tell me before? What were you doing there? Why didn’t you stop it? What did you do to make this happen? Are you telling the truth?
  • Have an understanding about the types of abuse (physical, emotional, sexual and neglect) and neglect.
  • Report any suspicion of child abuse and neglect.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.