Child acts differently around her grandfather.


Dear Stop It Now!,

How do children act or behave after being sexually abused? I know a 4yr old who acts strange around her grandfather. She used to adore him but she now cries if his name is brought up to her.

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Dear Concerned Adult,

It’s great that you're paying attention to this little girl's behavior change, and asking questions about her safety.

Warning Signs
Children do often show signs of distress and it is not always easy to figure out was is going on. Changes in responses to people and places can sometimes be as simple as a child reacting to the confusion of seeing a beloved person in their life grow a beard. And of course, sometimes more complex and yes, even harmful reasons can be the cause of a child's distress.

It is always wise to note (as you are doing) changes in a child’s behavior and to pay attention to what may be causing that behavior. Are you seeing any other signs? Please look at the Warning Signs in Children of Possible Child Sexual Abuse. It is important to understand that the presence of a single warning sign does not necessarily mean that a child is being sexually abused.

Primarily, we suggest looking for repeated warning behaviors or patterns of the behaviors that appear concerning. Have other possible explanations for this change in behavior been considered? Have there been any other changes in this child's family or environment that may also be contributing to her distress? Has anyone else raised a concern about her?

Children’s behaviors are indeed sometimes confusing. It is sometimes very difficult to determine if a child has been sexually abused just by his or her reaction to another person. Additionally, it is not always easy to get information from children about why they are upset. They aren’t always able to understand what makes them feel the way they feel – what is causing them to be upset. They just know how they feel. However, has anyone tried to talking to this child? In very basic language and with no mention of the fear of possible abuse, she can be asked why her grandfather’s name is making her cry. Possible answers should not be provided to her, but rather have a genuine and curious age-appropriate conversation with her, letting her know that she appears sad or upset because she cries whenever her grandfather comes up. Let her know that adults care when she is upset, scared, sad, etc.

Adult Warning Signs
You describe only a single sign in the child's behavior, and I'm wondering if there is a reason why you are concerned specifically about sexual abuse. Are you concerned about her grandfather's behaviors? Look over our tip sheets: Behaviors to Watch for When Adults Are With Children and Signs That an Adult May Be At-Risk to Harm a Child. Similarly to the cautionary note about children’s warning signs, pay attention to repeating and patterned behaviors instead of a single sign. Consider also asking the grandfather if he is aware that his granddaughter has been getting upset and that it seems specifically related to him. Ask him if he has any ideas why. And perhaps all the adults could talk about ways to help this little girl feel comfortable and safe.

Learn More
It may be helpful to learn more about some of the key steps in preventing child sexual abuse. This includes learning about  child sexual development, paying particular attention to the differences between typical behaviors and concerning behaviors, so that adults can identify the behaviors that could be concerning and what behaviors seem to be typical. Our resource guide page can help you find materials and resources on Children's Sexuality Development and Behaviors. Additionally, safety planning consists of making rules and boundaries in the home that help keep everyone safe. For more information about safety planning, start with our guidebook: Prevent Child Sexual Abuse.

I hope this information is helpful, and please do not hesitate to contact us back with further concerns or questions.

Take care,
Stop It Now!

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Last edited on: November 7th, 2018