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  • Amelia Gillis, LMHC

The Misunderstood Child


The narrative of the misunderstood child:

The words from the pages of my diary:

I am sitting in my room. I don't understand why this has happened to me. Was it something i said? Was it something I did? I’m only tens years old and I am having a hard time understanding what happened to me a few nights ago. I am so confused that I don't even know if it happened to me or if it was a bad dream. I can't tell my parents. I know they would want to know but I am afraid that they won't know how they will take the information. That scares me more than you know. I don't even know if they will believe me because he has been my parents friend for years.

I know I am rambling but it's hard to talk about....... (long sigh) Well, Something bad just happened and I don’t know what to do. I was left with the babysitter while my parents were away...... and when no one was looking he.... he.... ummmm....well he did things. He did things that didn’t feel right. He did things to me. You know? Like please don’t make me say it. Just talking about it makes me want to scream. I know I probably should tell my parents but again what will they say? Will they believe me? Will they rescue me? He should get in trouble for what he did. (screams in pillow)

Ok... I'm back.... Again, I’m not sure about telling them. The night that it happened I ran to my mom and I just held on to her leg for as long as I could. As I held on, tears slowly escaped from my eyes. She didn't know I was crying until I sniffled. She said "I was being overly dramatic and to go to my room". I just wanted to tell her what had happened but I froze. Besides, she wasn’t ready to listen to me. I could tell she had a long day. So that night I went to my room and cried myself to sleep. During those moments, I contemplated going to heaven. I didn’t know how I could get there but that night I wanted to go.... it’s been a month since it happened and my parents said I’ve been acting strange. A lot has happened within me since that "incident". I’m just trying to deal with this situation that has brought about fear, shame, and confusion. I don't play with the other kids at school. I like to be alone. I don't like to get undress around anyone. The strangest thing is I have to wash my hands at least 3 times every time I go near a bathroom. I just want to be clean again. I want to tell someone but honestly he told me not to and I don't know what will happen if I tell. I don’t know who to go to. I don't want to change things in my family. What if my parents are mad at me? I have so many questions. It's easier to pretend it never happened.

Sign

I’m only ten.

Debriefing

Questions to Consider

What do you do when you don’t know what to do? What if your child is acting out? What is your first response? Is it to reprimand them and tell them that they are being “dramatic”?

Or is to nurture them and dig deeper to ensure they aren’t masking pain?

In this case, the parents were unaware of their child’s sexual abuse. They didn’t know that the changes that were occurring was because of something deeper within the child that she couldn’t express in words. They noticed her isolation and her need for constant affection and attention. Their child was showing signs that something was wrong.

Do you know the signs?

Child sexual abuse can include sexual contact with a child, but it is not limited to that. It can also include other actions, like exposing oneself, sharing obscene images, or taking inappropriate photos or videos of a child. These crimes can have a serious impact on the life and development of a child, and can impact the survivor throughout their life.

Learning the warning signs of child sexual abuse is often the first step to protecting your child. If you can spot sexual abuse, you can stop it.

Common warning signs:

Behavioral signs:

  • Sexual behavior that is inappropriate for the child’s age

  • Bedwetting or soiling the bed, if the child has already outgrown these behaviors

  • Not wanting to be left alone with certain people or being afraid to be away from primary caregivers, especially if this is a new behavior

  • Tries to avoid removing clothing to change or bathe

Emotional signs (more common):

  • Excessive talk about or knowledge of sexual topics

  • Resuming behaviors that they had grown out of, such as thumbsucking

  • Nightmares or fear of being alone at night

  • Excessive worry or fearfulness

  • The child may become withdrawn and mistrustful of adults, and can become suicidal

Certain Situations

In some cases, children are afraid to tell. Some reasons maybe:

  • The abuser shames the child, points out that the child let it happen, or tells the child that his or her parents will be angry.

  • The abuser is often manipulative, and may try to confuse the child about what is right and wrong, or tell them the abuse is a “game.”

  • The abuser sometimes threatens to harm the child or a family member.

  • Some children who do not initially disclose abuse are ashamed to tell when it happens again.

  • Children are afraid of disappointing their parents and disrupting the family.

  • Children often love the abuser, and don’t want to get anyone in trouble or end the relationship. Research shows that the greatest risk to children doesn’t come from strangers, but from friends and family.

Open Communication

One of the best ways to protect your child is through an established relationship. Create a safe "non judgmental" place that they can freely come to when needed. When you talk to your child/children in age appropriate ways about their bodies, sex, and boundaries, then children understand what healthy relationships look like. It also teaches them that they have the right to say “no.” They become less vulnerable to people who would violate their boundaries, and are more likely to tell you if abuse occurs.

Get Help

We all can do our part in preventing and intervening when we notice changes in children. If you suspect abuse or need support, The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline is available. The hotline is dedicated to the prevention of child abuse. Serving the U.S. and Canada, the hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with professional crisis counselors who—through interpreters—provide assistance in over 170 languages. The hotline offers crisis intervention, information, and referrals to thousands of emergency, social service, and support resources. All calls are confidential.

1-800-4-A CHILD


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