Treatment

Talk therapy, also called psychotherapy, can:

  • Help a child who has been abused learn to trust again
  • Teach a child about normal behavior and relationships
  • Teach a child conflict management and boost self-esteem

Several different types of therapy may be effective, such as:

  • Trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy. This type of therapy helps an abused child to better manage distressing feelings and to deal with trauma-related memories. Eventually, the nonabusing parent and the child are seen together so the child can let that parent know exactly what happened.
  • Child-parent psychotherapy. This treatment focuses on improving the parent-child relationship and on building a stronger attachment between the two.

Psychotherapy can help parents:

  • Discover the roots of abuse
  • Learn effective ways to cope with life's inevitable frustrations
  • Learn healthy parenting strategies

If the child is still in the home, social services may schedule home visits and make sure essential needs, such as food, are available. Children who are placed in foster care because their home situation is too dangerous will often need mental health services and therapies.

Places to turn for help

If you need help because you're at risk of abusing a child or you think someone else has abused or neglected a child, there are organizations that can provide you with information and referrals, such as:

  • Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline: 800-4-A-CHILD (800-422-4453)
  • Prevent Child Abuse America: 800-CHILDREN (800-244-5373)

Coping and support

If a child tells you he or she is being abused, take the situation seriously. The child's safety is most important. Here's what you can do:

  • Encourage the child to tell you what happened. Remain calm as you assure the child that it's OK to talk about the experience, even if someone has threatened him or her to keep silent. Focus on listening, not investigating. Don't ask leading questions — allow the child to explain what happened and leave detailed questioning to the professionals.
  • Remind the child that he or she isn't responsible for the abuse. The responsibility for child abuse belongs to the abuser. Say "It's not your fault" over and over again.
  • Offer comfort. You might say, "I'm so sorry you were hurt," "I'm glad that you told me," and "I'll do everything I can to help you." Let the child know you're available to talk or simply listen at any time.
  • Report the abuse. Contact a local child protective agency or the police department. Authorities will investigate the report and, if necessary, take steps to ensure the child's safety.
  • Seek medical attention. If necessary, help the child seek appropriate medical care. Seek immediate medical attention if a child has signs of an injury or a change in consciousness.
  • Help the child remain safe. Ensure the child's safety by separating the abuser and the child, and by providing supervision if the child is in the presence of the abuser.
  • Consider additional support. You might help the child seek counseling or other mental health treatment. Age-appropriate support groups also can be helpful.
  • If the abuse has occurred at school, make sure the principal of the school is aware of the situation, in addition to reporting it to the local or state child protection agency.
Oct. 07, 2015
References
  1. Paramjit JT, et al. Child abuse and neglect. In: Dulcan’s Textbook of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Arlington, Va.: American Psychiatric Publishing; 2011. http://psychiatryonline.org/doi/book/10.1176/appi.books.9781585623921. Accessed Aug. 24, 2015.
  2. Set rules for Internet use. American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/Media/Pages/Set-the-Rules-for-Internet-Use.aspx. Accessed Aug. 21, 2015.
  3. What about punishment? American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/family-life/family-dynamics/communication-discipline/Pages/What-About-Punishment.aspx. Accessed Aug. 21, 2015.
  4. What to know about child abuse. American Academy of Pediatrics. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/at-home/Pages/What-to-Know-about-Child-Abuse.aspx. Accessed Aug. 21, 2015.
  5. Other conditions that may be a focus of clinical attention: Abuse and neglect. In: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5. 5th ed. Arlington, Va.: American Psychiatric Association; 2013. http://www.psychiatryonline.org. Accessed Aug. 24, 2015.
  6. Definitions of child abuse and neglect. Child Welfare Information Gateway. https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/define.pdf. Accessed Aug. 21, 2015.
  7. Child maltreatment prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/childmaltreatment/index.html. Accessed Aug. 21, 2015.
  8. Children benefit when parents have safe, stable, nurturing relationships. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/ssnrs-for-parents.pdf. Accessed Aug. 21, 2015.
  9. Child maltreatment: Facts at a glance 2014. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/childmaltreatment-facts-at-a-glance.pdf. Accessed Aug. 21, 2015.
  10. Understanding child maltreatment: Fact sheet 2014. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/understanding-cm-factsheet.pdf. Accessed Aug. 21, 2015.
  11. Preventing child abuse and neglect. Child Welfare Information Gateway. https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/preventingcan.pdf. Accessed Aug. 21, 2015.
  12. Understanding and preventing child abuse and neglect. American Psychological Association. http://www.apa.org/pi/families/resources/understanding-child-abuse.aspx. Accessed Aug. 21, 2015.
  13. The issue of child abuse. Childhelp. https://www.childhelp.org/child-abuse/. Accessed Aug. 21, 2015.
  14. Adams JA, et al. Updated guidelines for the medical assessment and care of children who may have been sexually abused. North American Society for Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology. In press. Accessed Sept. 18, 2015.
  15. Hoecker JL (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Sept. 21, 2015.
  16. Graff AH (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Sept. 28, 2015.
  17. Factitious disorder. In: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-5. 5th ed. Arlington, Va.: American Psychiatric Association; 2013. http://www.psychiatryonline.org. Accessed Sept. 28, 2015.
  18. Injury Prevention and Control: Division of Violence Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/index.html. Accessed Sept. 28, 2015.