On the last track, we discussed Sharing About Abandonment. This included Preschool Age, Early Elementary Age, From a Single Mother, From a Large Family, Middle School Age, Preteen and the "Homeland Tour" Technique.
Do you have a client whose child was abused in his or her previous home? How do you respond?
On this track, we will discuss Sharing About Abuse. First, we will discuss Physical Abuse, then Sexual Abuse. This will include Preschool Age, Early Elementary Age, Middle School Age and Preteen. As you listen, think of your client. How does he or she explain this abuse to the child?
Some adult victims of abuse that I have treated say they feel like time bombs ready to go off. This is often the case in those who were under the age of six when the abuse or trauma occurred. Since these abuse victims have not seen their birth families since the time of the abuse. Because these children were so young, often they do not have any context for relating to those persons outside the memory of the abuse.
Sometimes the abusive event was so overpowering that it is the only memory from which individuals can develop a sense of identity. When children who have been victims of abuse are adopted, parents can aid their children in understanding about that abuse as they move through their progressive stages of development.
Vanessa, a single mother, came to me about her adopted son Caleb, age 4.
Vanessa stated, "Caleb came to the attention of protective service workers when he entered preschool at the age of 3. Caleb was an angry child who would slap, kick and bite his playmates. One day, Caleb came in soaking wet from rain. His teacher, who kept spare clothes in the classroom, was helping him change, and she noticed huge bruises on his back and his legs. The teacher asked Caleb who did this to him, and Caleb replied, 'Mommy and Daddy.' Caleb was put into protective custody, though he was later moved for adoption. I've had Caleb for a year now, and I know someday he'll have a lot of questions about the how's and why's of his life. How can I be prepared to answer those questions?"
Similar to the last track, let’s go through the steps of explaining to Caleb the story of his birth parents.
4 Steps of Explaining the Story
#1 Preschool Age
First, as a preschooler, I explained to Vanessa that she could help Caleb to understand that his birth parents were not able to take care of him. I explained that Vanessa might say to Caleb, "All children need safe mommies and daddies. Your birth parents were not able to keep you safe."
#2 Early Elementary Age
Second, as Caleb approaches his early elementary years, I explained that Vanessa might say something like, "You were not hurt because you are a bad child, even if someone told you that. You are not at fault for what your parents did. You were treated harshly because your parents were out of control in their lives." I have found that adoptive parents can, at early elementary age, begin to fill in some details about the birth parents, for example, drinking problems, family problems, or financial problems. If Caleb still had memories of the abuse, Vanessa could tell the story with Caleb to help him talk about his thoughts and feelings.
#3 Middle School Age
Third, in addition to preschool age and early elementary age, when Caleb approached middle school, I suggested that Vanessa ask, "Do you ever get angry at a friend at school or on the playground? Do you ever feel like hitting them? Many children feel that way. Your parents also got very angry. They never learned how to handle anger when they were growing up. Instead of handling anger in a good way, they took their anger out on you, even when they knew it was wrong. What do you think could make them so angry? Life circumstances were overwhelming to them, and they didn't know how to handle them. What could have been overwhelming for them?"
I explained that Vanessa could fill in all the details she knew about Caleb's birth parents' background at this point.
Fourth, Vanessa and I discussed Caleb's preteen years and how to explain the story of his birth parents. I stated, "You can continue to deal with all Caleb's memories, both positive and negative. Giving information and tapping into emotions can be keys regarding helping Caleb move through the stages of his own anger and hurt. Information at the preteen age might include such areas as intergenerational patterns of abuse, socio-economic influences and the psychological makeup of Caleb's birth family."
When Caleb reached age twelve and beyond, he will develop abstract thinking and would begin to understand his birth family dynamics in these advanced terms.
Do you have a Vanessa who might benefit from hearing this track in your next session? Now that we've discussed Sharing About Physical Abuse, we will discuss Sharing About Sexual Abuse. This will include Early Elementary Age and Middle School Age and Beyond.
Have you found, as I have, that children often feel responsible for sexual abuse? As you know, offenders often make the child feel responsible for what happened, both as a way of keeping their victims quiet and to rationalize their own destructive behavior.
Dennis and Charlotte were the adoptive parents of Olivia, age 8. Charlotte stated, "Olivia was three years old when her stepfather, Ike, entered her life. Within a year after he came, Ike started fondling her. By the time Olivia was in first grade, Ike would come into her room late at night and force himself upon her. It was one of Olivia's teachers who became aware of the abuse. The teacher heard Olivia talking to a friend at recess about what her daddy made her do. The teacher notified the local Child Protective Services agency. Olivia's birth mother denied all of Olivia's allegations and essentially chose her husband over her daughter. Olivia entered foster care with us and Dennis and I eventually adopted her. Someday, we will have to tell her why…"
2 Parts to Explaining Sexual Abuse
#1 Early Elementary Age
I explained to Dennis and Charlotte that as Olivia was elementary-aged, they might want to begin a discussion of sexuality. As you know, there are a lot of books for children that discuss the topic of sexuality, and I suggested these to Dennis and Charlotte in case they wanted some extra help. I suggested that Dennis and Charlotte begin discussions about how Ike made hurtful decisions and was not considering Olivia's feelings.
I stated, "You might begin to ask Olivia questions like, 'Do you ever wonder about the time when you were with your birth parents?' Olivia may need to hear that nothing is too scary or too horrible to talk about. Olivia may need to know that nothing she can say will cause you to send her back." I have found that children often need to learn that no feelings will kill them, nor will any memory kill them either.
#2 Middle School Age and Beyond
Further, as Olivia prepared to enter adolescence, I suggested that Dennis and Charlotte consider counseling or a support group for Olivia to help with resolution of her early sexual abuse. I stated, "You can continue to respond to Olivia's questions with openness, support, and reflective listening. By reflective listening, I mean listening and then rephrasing Olivia’s statements to show her your understanding. You might reassure Olivia, 'It took great courage on your part to disclose what your stepfather did to you.' You can let Olivia know that you feel she did the right thing, and that you're proud of her."
Do you have a Dennis or a Charlotte whose child was sexually abused? Might he or she benefit from hearing this track?
On this track, we have discussed Sharing About Physical and Sexual Abuse. This has included Preschool Age, Early Elementary Age, Middle School Age and Beyond.
On the next track, we will discuss Sharing About Rape and Incest. This will include The "Tape Recorder" Technique, the Early Years, Middle School Years and Beyond and The Word "Rape."
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Gupta, S., Bonanno, G. A., Noll, J. G., Putnam, F. W., Keltner, D., & Trickett, P. K. (2011). Anger expression and adaptation to childhood sexual abuse: The role of disclosure. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 3(2), 171–180.
Ryan, S. D., & Madsen, M. D. (2007). Filial family play therapy with an adoptive family: A response to preadoptive child maltreatment. International Journal of Play Therapy, 16(2), 112–132.
Tener, D., Lusky, E., Tarshish, N., & Turjeman, S. (2018). Parental attitudes following disclosure of sibling sexual abuse: A child advocacy center intervention study. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 88(6), 661–669.
Online Continuing Education QUESTION 12
Why is it beneficial to ask a sexually abused child about his or her experience?
To select and enter your answer go to .