Parenting Tip of the Week – Answering Questions from Children about Abuse and Neglect

Child Abuse Prevention month is right around the corner! During April, news and information about child abuse and neglect is a lot more prevalent. Often, this can lead to children hearing about child abuse and wanting to know more. Today’s Parenting Tip is designed to give parents some help answering questions when talking to their children about this difficult topic.

Answering Questions from Children about Abuse and Neglect

As all parents and caregivers know, children are curious! You never know what topic is going to capture their attention. Over the past couple of years, we have heard from parents who have heard questions from their children like “why do some parents hurt their children?” and not know how to answer.

The most important thing to remember is to be available and to answer the questions that your children ask instead of making the topic taboo. When a child asks you questions about child abuse, try to answer as honestly as you can without scaring or confusing them. Below are some common questions and some suggestions on how parents and other caregivers can respond.

“What does ‘child abuse’ mean?”

The most common thing that kids want to know is pretty simple: what does child abuse mean? A good way to answer would be by saying something like “child abuse is when an adult does something that hurts their child on purpose and for no reason.” Depending on your child’s age, they may want to know more about specific kinds of abuse that they may have learned about in school, such as sexual abuse or bullying.

For tips on how to talk to your children about bullying, check out this previous Parenting Tip. If your child is asking about sexual abuse specifically, check out this article for help.

“Why do kids get abused?”

“Why” is often the most difficult question for a parent to answer and for a child to understand. It’s important for parents to convey the message that most adults care about children and will never hurt them. Parents can explain that when an adult abuses a child it is never the child’s fault and that the child didn’t do anything to deserve being abused. A parent or caregiver could say something like “Sometimes adults struggle with issues that affect their temper and don’t get the help they need and they can hurt their child without really wanting to. Any adult that hurts a child like this has a problem and needs to stop. You can always talk to me if you think someone you know is being hurt.”

“How can we stop it?”

A common response from children learning about issues like child abuse is wanting to know how they can stop or help. Remind your child that you are always there to talk to. Tell your children that they can tell you anything and you won’t get mad. If your child needs help and you aren’t around, for example when they are at school, tell them that they can always talk to a teacher or principal. The most important thing to reinforce is that children should always go to a trusted adult if they think something is wrong.

General Tips

While the three questions above are common, it can be hard to predict what a child will ask. Parents and caregivers can be ready for any sort of question they may face with a few simple tips:

  • Keep your answers simple and avoid going into too much detail.
  • If you are worried or upset about the conversation, so will your child. Even though the topic can be scary or stressful, remain relaxed while talking with your children and they will be relaxed too.
  • Don’t ever be afraid to say I don’t know. You don’t have to know everything, you just have to be willing to hear the questions and answer to the best of your ability.
  • Remind your children that you love them and they can always come to you with anything that is bothering them.

For more information and tips on how to talk to children about difficult topics, read this great article from the American Psychological Association.