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Parenting After Childhood Sexual Abuse

Updated: Jul 29, 2021

What happens when you are an adult survivor of child sexual abuse and have children of your own

Child sexual abuse has the ability to impact one’s sense of self in the world for many years. The long-term effects of child sexual abuse can manifest at any time and can follow even in the moments of parenthood and years beyond that. Being a survivor of child sexual abuse and raising a child of your own can be both empowering, raw, and transformative.

Survivors of childhood trauma may perceive the world through the lens of their past trauma. Certain events or environmental factors may trigger memories that can make present moments feel unsafe, though the potential for harm may be low. A traumatic history of child sexual abuse does not mean that an individual shouldn't be a parent, nor does it mean that they will abuse their children.

As a parent who has experienced child sexual abuse, practicing trauma-informed parenting techniques and skills can be helpful. The following are ways parents can be trauma-informed:

  • Understanding what trauma is and types of trauma

  • Understanding the impacts of trauma

  • Recognizing the signs, symptoms, and effects of trauma

  • Responding and supporting your needs and your child’s needs in a way that decreases further trauma

What happens when if your child experiences child sexual abuse?

As a parent, finding out that your child has been sexually abused can be heartbreaking, frightening, and traumatic. It is understandable and normal for any parent whose child has experienced sexual abuse to go through a range of emotions. For adult survivors of child sexual abuse, these feelings may be magnified and resurface their past trauma. Some primary ways to support your child and yourself through this process are:

  • Understanding your child’s triggers: Children who have experienced trauma may act in survival mode for years later. When children are out of a dangerous situation, their brains and bodies may still feel in survival mode although the danger has passed. They may exhibit challenging behaviors when he/she experiences a trauma trigger. In these moments, it may be helpful to remember the stress the child went through and practice patience. In addition, parents can keep a record of times and situations where your child is triggered and identify helpful strategies to support your child in those moments.

  • Safety: As a survivor of child sexual abuse, it is important to reaffirm that you are safe, which can be carried into conversations with your children, that they are safe too. Reassure them with safety and security while providing a structured, predictable environment. Child sexual abuse is a challenging topic to discuss. It can be even more difficult when you’re talking about protecting your own children. Parents can take steps to keep their children safe and give them the tools to speak up when something isn’t right.

    • Start talking to your child early about the word “safety.”

    • Teach them the actual names of their private parts.

    • Team them the right they have to their own bodies.

    • Teach them that no means no. “No” is a full sentence.

    • Encourage them to trust their gut.

    • Keep the conversation around safety, ongoing.

  • Help children deal with difficult emotions and behaviors: As a survivor of child sexual abuse, parenting your children through tough emotions is important. As you continue to navigate life, staying attentive to your emotions and behaviors in healthy ways, you can then help your children see the link between their feelings, emotions, and actions in order to take control of their own behaviors.

Talking to your children about child sexual abuse is important and needed to keep them safe and secure as they go into the world.

To speak with a trained support specialist, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or chat online at online.rainn.org.

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