Is Your Child Trying to Tell You Something?

Children don’t usually tell us how they are feeling in a direct way especially about their worries. Instead, they say things out of context, give clues, and as they get older, test the waters to see how a topic might be received. This means we have to listen extra carefully and inquire, even when the day is moving fast. Consider this exchange between a son and his mother.

Son: “I want to quit Boy Scouts.”
Mom: “Okay, it’s up to you and fine with me if that’s what you want.”

Was there a missed opportunity to inquiry and learn? After all, her son had been a longtime Scout and it seemed to mean the world to him. Imagine if the conversation had gone like this:

Son: “I want to quit Boy Scouts.”
Mom: “Why honey?”
Son: “I don’t like it anymore.”
Mom: “What don’t you like about it?”
Son: “I don’t like the new Scout leader at all.”
Mom: “Can you tell me what you don’t like about him?”
Son: “I just don’t like him.”
Mom: “What do you mean?”
Son: “I thought he was my friend?”
Mom: “And then what happened?”
Son: “Well, he started touching me and I don’t like it.”
Mom: “Can you tell me more about that?”

You can see where I’m going with this. By steady and open inquiry, the mother would have learned that the new Scout leader was sexually abusing her son.

Here’s an example where the parent did listen very carefully. A father and his daughter were in the car and the daughter blurted out this statement

Sophie: “Daddy, I don’t want to play those games with Grandpa anymore.”
Dad: “What games, sweetie?”
Sophie: “Those tickling games.”
Dad: “Oh, tell me about the tickling games.”
Sophie: “He makes us tickle our private parts.”
Dad: “I’m so glad you told me, Sophie, and I will make sure those games stop. No one has the right to touch your private parts because you’re the boss of your body!”

Child sexual abusers have told us repeatedly that the biggest deterrent to child sexual abuse is a parent who listens—very carefully. For more examples and sample language for talking with children, see Off Limits: A Parent’s Guide to Keeping Kids Safe from Sexual Abuse.

Published on: July 26, 2013
About the Author
Photo of Feather Berkower

Feather Berkower has been a leader in child sexual abuse prevention since 1985. Her highly regarded workshop, Parenting Safe Children, empowers adults to keep children safe from sexual abuse. Feather is also the co-author of Off Limits: A Parent's Guide to Keeping Kids Safe from Sexual Abuse.

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Recent Comments

Good article, although I think it misses out on one key point. The first step is to have a good, open, honest relationship with your kids. One in which they already feel like they can not only tell you anything but ASK you anything, without shame or embarrassment. Otherwise, kids in these situations aren’t going to tell you a damn thing, no matter how many questions you ask them.