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December 4, 2023 Dec 04, 2023 5 min read

Checklist: How to Talk to Your Children About Sexual Abuse

The following list of suggestions is designed to help you prepare for a conversation with your child or children about sexual abuse. You will find this list helpful both for conversations about actual abuse that a child has experienced and general conversations about cultivating safety and awareness about sexual abuse.

Check in with a therapist or counselor first

If possible, talk with a therapist or counselor ahead of speaking with your children about sexual abuse. Therapists (especially those with a focus on family therapy and/or trauma) can help you plan an approach for speaking with your children based on your unique circumstances.


Even if you don’t have a dedicated therapist or counselor, try calling a sexual abuse hotline to speak through the process with a dedicated volunteer or advocate.

Determine your goals for the conversation

Having a conversation with your child about sexual abuse could be necessary for a variety of reasons – and your approach should vary accordingly. A general conversation about safety and recognizing abusive behaviors, for example, will require a different approach than a conversation about sexual abuse that has happened to your child or within your family.


Before speaking to your children about this complex topic, determine your goals and intentions for the conversation. Some examples of potential goals include laying a foundation for general safety and boundaries or helping your child heal from their own experiences of abuse.

Remember that your child is innocent

One of the biggest mistakes parents make when talking with their children about sexual abuse is using a “shame and blame” approach. Regardless of whether any actual abuse has taken place, it’s important to remember that your child is a child and that their wellbeing is your number one interest. Especially for children who have experienced abuse, encountering compassion, empathy, and meaningful support from parents and guardians is a critical factor in ensuring that they can effectively heal.

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Tread lightly and have compassion

Whether you’re talking about general safety or dealing with existing abuse, it’s important not to overwhelm your child. Avoid sharing unnecessary and/or graphic information with your children about sexual abuse, as being exposed to this type of information could create emotional or psychological distress. Instead, keep the conversation straightforward, and focus on practical safety strategies rather than scare tactics.


Alternatively, if you are talking with your child about sexual abuse within your family or that they’ve experienced first hand, it’s important to understand that your child may feel hesitant or even unwilling to discuss these topics at first. To encourage an open channel of communication, avoid pressuring your child to open up before they’re ready. Most importantly, always refrain from using harsh tones, punishment, or anger toward your child when discussing their experiences of sexual abuse.

Carefully acquire important details about the abuse

For parents speaking with their children about sexual abuse that has already happened, it’s important to acquire as much information as you can about the abuse your child has experienced. This will likely feel like a delicate process, since asking too many overt questions could overwhelm or scare your child. However, by applying patience, compassion, and understanding, you should be able to lay a groundwork of trust with your child over time and learn more about their experiences.

Some of the critical information you’ll want to acquire includes the identity of the person or people who have abused your child, how your child met them, and what specific abusive and/or inappropriate behaviors they engaged in. Having this information will not only help you better support and understand your child, but it will also provide you with the necessary information you’ll need for reporting the crime to the authorities.

Focus on safety and healing

While the specifics of each conversation will vary, let your child’s safety and wellbeing guide the purpose of your conversation. Find ways to discuss practical approaches to staying safe and, if necessary, open up a dialogue about the role of counseling in recovering from sexual abuse experiences.

Connect your child with a counselor

If your child has experienced sexual abuse of any kind, finding a counselor who can offer them ongoing support is an important part of helping them heal. Open up this conversation by letting them know you’re considering connecting them with a counselor, and ask if this is something they would be open to trying. While it’s normal for children to feel hesitant, resistant, or even scared of the idea of counseling at first, starting the conversation early can give your child time to become more comfortable with the idea.

Don’t treat your kids like confidants or therapists

The most important thing to remember when speaking with your children about violence or abuse in your family is that your children are not your friends or your therapist. While this point applies to all parent-child dynamics, it’s especially important to consider for parents who have experienced abuse themselves. It’s common for parents with unresolved trauma to confide in their children about the abuse they’ve experienced, but this can cause lasting emotional and psychological harm. Find other ways to seek emotional support from adult friends, therapists, or support groups.

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