Vol. 10, No. 2 • May 2006

Preparing a Safe Place for Healing for Sexually Abused Children

  1. Have boundaries and rules that are clear and safe.
  2. Emphasize that people can choose to experience their feelings without acting on them.
  3. Supervise in ways that allow you to keep track of your kids at all times and know who they are with; careful supervision gives parents a chance to redirect “trigger” behaviors (aggressive horseplay or teasing, lack of boundaries).
  4. Present opportunities to develop social and communication and problem solving abilities, to understand cause and effect, and to develop goal-oriented behavior.
  5. Increase self-control by helping kids learn to identify “trigger” feelings (fear, frustration, anxiety, and stress are possible triggers which may stimulate sexual feelings and trigger behaviors); teach children how to manage their stress through slow breathing, word hugs, prayers, imaging, etc.
  6. Make the “rule of three” a new family rule: avoid just one adult alone with a child, or two kids without an adult. Teach kids the “No/Go/Tell” defense.
  7. Talk respectfully about sexuality, using correct terms for body parts. Suggestive and ambiguous words, slang, and obscenities can be “triggers” that create feelings of stimulation and shame.
  8. Communicate actions and intentions clearly. Touching and cuddling between children and adults may be threatening and/or may trigger sexualized feelings/ behaviors.
  9. Discuss how secrets, surprises, and privacy differ. Emphasize that there are to be no secret games, stories, clubs, or presents, especially between children and adults or older kids.
  10. Discuss openly as a family the boundaries and rules for bedrooms, bathroom, bedtimes, and dressing and undressing. All members need to understand that for kids who have been hurt and compromised by sexual abuse these may carry sexual and/or aggressive messages and that all adults (regardless of sex) may be perceived as potentially threatening.
  11. Provide separate beds for children and separate bedrooms for boys and for girls to help set safe boundaries and encourage privacy.
  12. Use logical consequences and behavioral contracts for misbehavior.

Adapted from an article originally published under the title “Tips for Preparing A Safe, Secure Place for Healing” in the June 1999 newsletter, The WARE Abouts, from the Washington Adoption Resource Exchange. WARE is a project of the Northwest Adoption Exchange, Seattle, WA <www.nwae.org>

Copyright 2006 Jordan Institute for Families