How to help your child process sexual abuse

Noah is the sweetest child in the world.  He’s like an angel for a visit amongst the rest of us. He’s easily distracted and can get lost in a large house, so it’s not that he’s perfect. He’s just sweet. When he was 8, though, he was angry. “I have to do what? Brush my teeth? Are you kidding me? I just started playing. Why, every day, do you make me brush my teeth?” I would hear him getting louder and louder as he walked down the hall to the bathroom, until I would hear something slam or break. That wasn’t Noah. That was something else. So, Noah and I had a meeting and I asked him if memories were surfacing again. They were, he said, as he shook and cried. He was remembering the rape all the time. I told him, “Hey, you have every right to be mad and upset. You were so small when this happened. How could you possibly make sense of it?”

He asked me why Sam wanted to push him down and hold his legs up on his shoulders and hurt him, and I told him why – the real reason. Yes, I told my 8-year-old about sex again. I told him that it feels great to have sex but that, unfortunately, Sam wants to have sex with children, which is decidedly not great. “Eew,” said Noah.  Helping kids heal from this means you get to have these conversations over and over and over again. I look into my child’s face the whole time and I tell the truth. And the good news is that when you do it without shame, you see such a lightness come over your child. That’s what it’s like right afterwards: I want to throw up and Joshua and Noah are happy as clams.

I also told Noah it was OK that he was getting mad at me and his daddy. It was our fault that Sam had access to him – no one else. For the first time, Noah said he was a little mad. But, then he said. “But, I’m proud of you mommy. I’m proud that you didn’t let Joshua and I keep acting it out to understand it. That helped us from thinking it was OK. And, I’m proud that you helped us get better. You’re a good mommy!”

Yes. I cried.

My boys say “eeew” now because they were helped to process it out loud instead of figure it out on their own. In fact, they were allowed to process it out loud as many times as they needed to, as often as they needed to, without shame or condemnation – and that’s how they got better.

If they were left to their own devices, they would have continued to try to make sense of it on their own and who knows what would have happened.

Noah is less angry.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *