How should I talk to my child if I suspect he is being abused?

Dear Stop It Now!

I’ve looked at your warning signs and I’ve seen several of them in my 7 year old son and my ex-spouse.  I think it’s possible that my ex-spouse could be abusing my son. I would like to talk to my son to find out more about what might be going on but I don’t know what to say to him. Do you have any advice? 

Dear Concerned Parent,

A parent needs to be sensitive to a number of considerations when they ask a child about the possibility of sexual abuse.  Suspecting that your child could be being harmed is very painful and confusing.  Since you’ve seen warning signs, it’s only natural to want to get more information.

Stay calm - Don't pressure child

However, it's best to proceed thoughtfully and cautiously as we don't want your child to have to repeat his story over and over again. Children will naturally begin to change their stories if they have to repeat them. They may sense that you are looking for particular information and they want to please you, or they may feel that the information is disturbing to you and they want to protect you. You don’t want to frighten the child or pressure them to answer in ways that they may think will appease you but that aren’t necessarily truthful or accurate.

It’s important not to let him see that you are anxious or upset when you ask him questions.  As hard as it may be, a parent needs to appear as calm and neutral as possible.  If a child thinks that their answers will upset the parent, they may simply close down or try to answer in the way they think their parent wants them to answer – sometimes just to end the conversation. The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network publishes an informative article "How to talk to your child if you suspect that they have been sexually abused" that can help you prepare for this conversation.

Planning for safety

Other considerations include immediate safety planning. Can you supervise any and all interactions between your son and his father? Are there other concerned family members that can help you plan for safety and assist in supervision? Review our prevention tipsheet, Create your family safety plan to help you think about safety planning for your family.

As a protective parenti, responding to our concerns is sometimes the hardest step but with support and information, I am hopeful and confident that you can both address your concerns and protect your son.

Take care,
Stop It Now!

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Last edited on: August 7th, 2012