If you discover that a child is being abused, or if a child comes right out and tells you, it can be an uncomfortable situation, and it is often difficult to find the “right thing” to say to them. Many times there is no “right thing” to say, but you can be prepared by knowing how to handle the situation. Here are some suggestions.
1. Avoid Denial and Remain Calm
If your actions, tone or words reveal a sense of denial or shock or disgust, the child may react by shutting down. You need to remain as calm and as reassuring as you possibly can. Don’t be afraid to talk about it. If children sense that you are afraid to talk, they will not bring it up and they will definitely not open up. Remember, children don’t benefit from “not thinking about it” or “putting things out of their mind.” They benefit from talking about their emotions and working through what they have experienced.
2. Listen to what they have to say and empathize with them
So many times, our natural inclination is to want to jump straight to problem solving or solution mode. A child who has been abused or neglected, and is willing to talk to you about it, is crying out to be listened to. Be a person that they can talk to, cry with and mourn with. Remember that empathy is not the same thing as feeling sorry for them.