Communication between adults and children is not always easy. Even though children understand more than we think, they often lack the vocabulary to make themselves completely understood; add to that ambiguous questions from parents, which often overwhelm kids, and it’s a miracle we’re able to communicate at all! It’s extremely important for children to trust their parents and sometimes it’s even vital. This mother remembered this important fact just in time, before she caused damage with her questions.
How do good parents miss child sexual abuse? Most of the time they simply ask the wrong questions. Here’s one mother’s story:
One day my son went to a Halloween party at a friend’s house. When I picked him up a few hours later, I could see from the smile on his face that he had really enjoyed himself. Just before leaving, I was standing by the door with his friend’s father and grandmother.
Both of them told me how well behaved my son had been, which was music to my ears. Thank goodness! No fights or tantrums!
I scooted my happy kid to the car and started to drive home. But as we drove, I started to feel uneasy, something felt off.
Then it hit me. I swerved into the nearest parking lot. Everyone was honking their horns at me, but I was distracted. I knew I had to talk to my son, because when I was a child, I’d been through the same thing.
I remembered how I’d been sexually abused as a little girl by a teenage relative. And I remembered the innocent questions my mom had asked me when she picked me up from their house:
“Were you a good girl? Were you polite and honest? Did you behave yourself?”
My mom didn’t know:
1. that the teenager who lived there would threaten me before she arrived (and sometimes even stood behind her with clenched fists and threatening looks when she was there);
2. that these questions, especially in front of the person who had abused me, reinforced the idea that I had to obey the wishes of whoever was watching me when she was gone;
3. that I thought since I had answered “yes” at the door, I couldn’t take my answer back later (it would’ve meant explaining why I was lying before).
When parents ask their children if they behaved themselves in front of other people, they often feel pressured to say yes.
That’s why I turned to my son in the parking lot and looked him directly in the eyes. I started over from the beginning and asked the right questions.
Maybe you’ll also consider asking your children these questions next time they’re in someone else’s care. I asked him in private:
- Did you enjoy yourself or not?
- How did you spend your time?
- What was your favorite part of the party?
- What was your least favorite part?
- Did you feel safe?
- Was there anything else you wanted to share?
Make these questions a normal habit for your family. And let your kids know that they can share anything else at a later time if need be.
The mistake I made that day is totally common among parents. We feel like as long as we ask questions, we’re on top of things. The truth is, parents must always question – at the right place and right time.
The author of this story is 22-year-old Tonya GJ Prince from the US. She regularly posts informative content on her website about the serious topic of sexual abuse. With this story, Prince asks parents to not only be willing to listen to their children, but also ask the right questions. Victims of sexual abuse and their relatives should seek out professional help. Here is a good place to start.