You are seeking help for your child who has been sexually abused
Child sexual abuse survivors like your child, experience many conflating and confusing thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Shame, guilt, sadness, hopelessness, anger, mistrust, bad, ugly, unsafe, unloved, unworthy, and nasty are just some of the ways your child may describe how she feels about herself. On the other hand for children who are younger or who experienced sexual abuse before they were verbal, they may not have the language to express what happened to them or how it made them feel. Children speak through their behavior. Part of the healing process will be to help your child come to terms with her overwhelming feelings, and begin to understand how these events have re-wired her brain in a way that her behavior is a reflection of constantly being in fight-flight-freeze mode. I will help your child learn to self regulate and for you and your child to have a safe and trusting relationship
So here’s some of the things we will do together to get your child on the right path.
#1 During the intake session. I will gather a ton of information about your child and your family. If possible I will communicate with the school, as teachers often see a different side of your child. I will then meet with your child and begin to get to know them.
#2 We move at her pace. Therapy is about building our relationship. This means building trust, which is earned slowly. For children who have been sexually abused they often feel shame and blame that it's their fault. They also worry about getting the adults in their lives in trouble, so it's important that what we discuss stays private. The exceptions are in case of current abuse or neglect. Furthermore, I will work with you, as the parent, on how to best support your child through healing which includes frequent communication between the two of us, bringing you into sessions at times, and encouraging you and your child to communicate with each other.
#3 We will feel together. The biggest part of healing will be to connect the parts of herself that she is disconnected from, because of the abuse. The disconnection helped her in the past because it allowed her to function and survive the trauma, but now that she's out of the environment, the disconnection is keeping her from fully experiencing love and joy.
#4 We will do more than talk. I know when you think about working online you picture only sitting on your computer or tablet and talking. Your probably unsure of how this can even help your child. We will do more than talk but we will also play, do art, use music, and do yoga stretches. Trauma is stored in the body and by moving we will discharge the pent up energy stored up in your child's body. By using play your child communicates what is going on in her world as well as her thoughts and feelings. When we play together, whether using games online or she uses toys in her room, it's a chance for her to share her story and find a sense of resolution around her trauma. I also use art to help children express themselves in ways that words usually cannot.
I hope what I listed gives you a little glimmer into what I will do with your child in session. I am looking forward to connecting with you and your child and helping her on her path to healing.
How Trauma Presents Itself in Children?
- Impulsivity-acting without thinking
- Hyperactivity-they can't seem to sit still, focus, or they move quickly from one thing to the next
- Hypervigilance-this can look a lot like hyperactivity. Your child is constantly looking around the room, they don't pay attention to details, they seem jumpy and anxious
- Depression (in children this looks more like irritability than sadness, but sadness and feelings of worthlessness can also be present)
- Fears, Worries, and/or Phobias
- Sleep Challenges (such as: insomnia, restless/interrupted sleep, and nightmares/night terrors, difficulty falling asleep)
- Enuresis (day time and/or night time wetting after being potty trained)/Encopresis (difficulty controlling bowels/involuntary defecation)
- Regression (loss of previously mastered skills such as potty training, weening, wanting to sleep with parents, etc)
- And finally many of these children, particularly when the event happened at a younger age (in the womb, infancy, and/or toddler hood) or if the trauma happened repeatedly, have persisting physiological hyper-reactivity which results in a faster resting heart rate and/or borderline high blood pressure, metabolic challenges (not gaining weight despite how much they eat, overeating, or not eating, and/or a high or low body temperature.
- Remember not all children who have experienced trauma will develop PTSD and/or other trauma related symptoms.
Your child's abuse does not need to define them
As a parent you worry a lot about how your child's sexual violation will affect her as she grows up. You're worried that they will be re-victimized, that she will always hate herself or feel she is disgusting, and you worry that she will grow up and just be unhappy.
This worry has driven you to seek help for your child now, so that she doesn't have to continue to suffer. Bravo! As your child's therapist I work with her where she is at. I do not push her or force her to tell her story, for many children have a difficult time understanding sexual violations. They understand that it hurt and made them feel uncomfortable but they also experience love and care for the perpetrator. These feelings are normal and also confusing. With the abuser away from your child, she may feel guilty because she got the person in trouble. Your child is often mourning the loss of this person as well. I help them understand that these feelings are normal.
In therapy we work through all aspects of the trauma so your child can feel a sense of this chapter in her life ending and she's on to the next chapter. I help your child discover her boundaries and learn to advocate or vocalize her thoughts, feelings, and needs to you and other important people in her life. Where she feels safe to come to you with all parts of herself and know that you will love her unconditionally. I will help your child find her strengths and feel empowered.
"My daughter is having bad dreams and can't sleep. She doesn't always remember her nightmares and I don't know how to help her"
Nightmares are typical for children who experience abuse and those that don't. For the child who experienced sexual abuse the nightmares may be of past sexual violations or monsters who are coming to harm them. Nightmares are very scary for your daughter and she needs a lot of love and comfort in these moments. You can ask her to tell you about the nightmares but don't push if she doesn't remember them. Don't ask her leading questions just you listening and validating her fears is enough to smooth some of her fear away.
During this times she may seek comfort in sleeping with you or in the same room as you, which is ok. If she has a favorite stuffed animal or blanket those can bring her comfort as well. Remind your child that these are just dreams and that they cannot really hurt her even though in the moment it feels like she is really going to be harmed. Reassure her that you are there to protect her. Last keep track of her nightmares. You will often find that theres a pattern to when they come and then you can take preventive steps that might aid in staving them off. As your daughter continues to heal you will see the frequency of nightmares decrease and often even be alleviated.
Healing from sexual abuse is possible for your child. Your child doesn't have to continue to suffer or be haunted by this ghost.
Expert tips from trauma therapist that will help a sexual abuse survivor live a better and happier life