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Talking to Children About Sexual Abuse

Tips for Parents

When we hear difficult news many children may feel upset, confused or frightened. In the case of sexual abuse children may be concerned about their safety as well as the safety of their friends and loved ones. Children look to adults for information and guidance on how to react. Below are some tips to help children feel safe by establishing a sense of normalcy and creating an environment to talk with them.

  1. Reassure children that they are safe. Parents and teachers take many steps at home and school to keep children safe. Discuss some actions we take at home (e.g. lock doors at night, inform parents when you arrive at a friend’s house) and school (e.g., school rules, fire drills, classroom counseling lessons) and encourage children to tell an adult if they feel unsafe.
  2. Maintain a normal routine. Keeping to a normal routine is comforting for both children and adults. Following your typical sleep, meal, school and activity schedule helps maintain our health.
  3. Talk with your child(ren). Our communications to you the past few days have encouraged you to talk with your children about their interactions with Mr. Katz. Be patient as children do not always talk about difficult topics easily. Many children may not remember Mr. Katz, especially if he was not a substitute in their classrooms or because he only subbed in the building a few times over the last two years. If you do decide to talk to your child(ren) please remember that a range of reactions/feelings is normal.
    • A gentle, calm demeanor is necessary.
    • Ask if they recall when Mr. Katz was a substitute teacher in their class.
    • If so, inquire whether they had any individual conversations with Mr. Katz.
    • Ask if there is anything they want to tell you about Mr. Katz.
    • Reassure your child that they will not be in trouble or be punished for anything they tell you.
    • Allow your child to write, draw or play as a way of expressing their feelings.
    • Keep conversation brief and encourage your child to let you or any other trusted adult know if they remember something later.
  4. Keep your explanations about sexual abuse developmentally appropriate. Your child may want more information about abuse. You may want to discuss that people can be abusive in many different ways and includes physical, verbal, mental and sexual abuse. Reinforce that any type of abuse is totally unacceptable.
    • Early elementary school children need brief, simple explanations balanced with reassurance that adults want to know when they feel unsafe.
    • Upper elementary and early middle school children may ask more questions. Remind them of the health education lessons that when an adult is concerned that a child is in danger they must report it to the authorities.
    • Upper middle and high school children may express strong opinions about their rights and safety. Encourage them to find positive ways to advocate for addressing these difficult topics at school and in their community.

Website Resources for Parents and Caregivers

Our Kids Center.com – Downloadable PDF with suggestions on what to say and what not to say when talking to your child about sexual abuse

The Child Mind Institute – Ten tips for teaching children skills to prevent sexual abuse

U.S. Department of Justice – Detailed website with strategies and tips for talking to children and adolescents about sexual abuse

Kids Safe Foundation – Tips for parents and caregivers to protect children from sexual abuse

Care.com – Seven tips for talking to children, with links to books/resources

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) – Website contains sexual assault safety and prevention information for parents and students