After abuse: Building resilience for better emotional health

Not all children who have been abused face mental health problems later in life. How can parents help them build emotional resilience?
After abuse: Building resilience for better emotional health

Resilience is our ability to thrive even in the face of challenges. The more resilient we are the more we are able to adapt to adverse life situations. While children who face sexual abuse in their childhood are vulnerable to certain mental illnesses, it is by no means the only determining factor. By providing a safe and loving environment, the child’s parents and family can boost the child’s healing, mental wellbeing, and through it, the child’s ability to face adversity through their lives.

As a parent or caregiver to a young child who has experienced abuse, you can help them build resilience:

  • Validate their feelings. Avoid saying “don’t cry” or “forget it”.

  • Acknowledge that they may be feeling sad, scared and hurt because of the situation. Reassure them that it’s perfectly normal to react in that way. Encourage them to speak about how they’re feeling.

  • Maintain a regular routine. Younger children find safety when there is a structure in their lives. Make sure that you continue important rituals that mean something to the child—whether it is reading them a bedtime story, or having dinner with them every evening.

  • Help them forge strong bonds with friends and family who they can trust.

  • Help them understand that the abuse is in the past so that they do not have to live in fear of being abused again. Remind them of the steps you have taken to ensure that the abuse does not occur again.

  • Help them set goals and plan how they will reach them. The goals can be small, achievable ones, that help the child understand that they can take control of their actions.

  • Keep any agreements you make with the child so that they understand that adults can be trustworthy.

  • Help the child get away from the stressors. Help them stay away from the abuser or other people who may bring back memories of the abuse they faced. Try to take the child to a different/fresh location.

  • Help build your child’s self-esteem and trust in themselves. Remind them that they have faced challenges in the past and you trust that they are able to handle this situation too. At the same time, assure them that you are there to offer support to them if they need it.

  • Give them a lot of support, love and affection. Let them know that they are loved and cared for.

  • Let the child know what steps they can take if the situation occurs again. Reassure them that they can come to you to help them manage it. And that there are other things they can do if they aren’t able to reach you right then (calling the child helpline, etc). If the child is older, teaching them some simple self-defense moves may shore up their confidence in themselves, and help them understand that they can take care of themselves.

  • Reach out for professional help.

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