From Tracie: How Do You Tell Your Kid You Are A Survivor Of Child Sexual Abuse?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

How Do You Tell Your Kid You Are A Survivor Of Child Sexual Abuse?

I had the talk with my daughter early. You know...the talk.

It wasn't a big thing. I started by telling her the proper names for body parts, both male and female. I told her she has control of her body, and no one has the right to touch her without her consent. I told her that if anyone ever did touch her, or ask her to touch them, I would not even for a second be mad at her, and she could tell me. I even told her that adults who try to hurt children lie, and no matter what anyone tells her, I am always on her side.

I don't view the talk as a one time thing, something that happens around the age of 12 with downcast eyes and nervous breaths. It is an ever-continuing conversation. Changing and getting deeper as she grows older.

We practice openness, and have a shame-free approach to conversations about bodies, sex, and everything else (there are super fun conversations about alcohol, books, drugs, being kind to your neighbor, the death penalty, Rainbow Looms, Christianity, movies, child marriage, and politics happening at our house too, if you ever want to come over on a Saturday night).

There is one thing I had not told my daughter, though. I had never told her I am a survivor of child sexual abuse. It is something I have thought about over the years, but I wasn't sure exactly how to tell her, or how much to tell her, or when was the right time to tell her. She knew some things, like the fact I don't have a relationship with my father because of choices he made when I was a child that put me in harm's way, and the refusal to be honest and work though those choices and situations now that I'm an adult. But I never really told her I had an uncle, or that that uncle sexually abused me.

It never came up in conversation.

That is a bit of an excuse, of course, because how would it have come up in conversation if I didn't start it? It wouldn't. It didn't. Until yesterday.

Yesterday we were talking about growing up and bodies changing, and Katarina told me, "Sometimes talking about stuff like this feels a little awkward, but it isn't bad. And I think it is less awkward the more we talk about it. I know you won't freak out, and I feel like I can ask you anything. You tell me the truth, and I appreciate that."

And then she asked me another question, and I heard myself say, "There is something I want to tell you."

There is something I want to tell you.

When I was a child, I was sexually abused.

How old were you?

It started when I was four. My uncle, my father's brother, was the person who abused me, and it stopped when I was nine years old and he died.

Are you like Jenny from Forrest Gump? Do you feel hurt, and confused, and want to cry and scream and throw things? 

Sometimes. Sometimes I do feel like that. Not as often now, but when I was younger, I felt that way a lot. But unlike Jenny, I was able to tell someone what had happened to me, and eventually I was able to ask for help. I got counselling. I spent time in prayer. I learned about healing and worked on myself a lot.

You went to counselling? Was that scary?

It felt scary sometimes, because I was talking about things that were hard, and dealing with really big feelings and bad memories. But it wasn't actually scary. It was really, really good. I'm glad I did it. There is no shame in asking for help, or in going to a professional to get that help.

I don't want to know any details. But it does make sense in a way.

Don't worry. I'm not going to give you details. I just wanted you to know the truth about my story. And I wanted you to know that even if something bad happens in your life, you can work through it.

This is why you sometimes write about child abuse on your blog, and spend time on the phone and computer talking about funding rape kit testing. And why you and dad sometimes talk about survivors. And why you get upset when your dad calls the house. And why you tell your friends they should teach their kids to say penis and vagina.

Yes. I try to use what I know to help other people protect their children, and to help other survivors find healing.

Our conversation veered and continued from there, but this was the part that will stay with me forever. When we were finished talking, my daughter gave me a big hug and told me she was glad I had gotten help, and that I was helping other people get help, too.

That conversation that had been so scary for me for a long time, that I wasn't sure I could ever have the right words for, happened. And it was a little bit like going to counseling for the first time. Scary, but really, really good.

Talking To Kids About Surviving Sexual Abuse

Ten was the right age for me to have this conversation with Katarina, but it will be different for every child. If you are a survivor wondering how to share your story with your child, this is my advice.

Telling your child you are a survivor:

  • Be age appropriate.
  • Skip details.
  • Talk about healing.
  • Use your story as a chance to reinforce talking openly about anything, including bodies, sex, people who make you uncomfortable, etc.
  • Answer questions.
  • Keep it simple.

Have you had this or other difficult conversations with your child?
How do you approach difficult topics?

*I'm linking this post with Shell at Things I Can't Say. This was something I was scared to say for a long time, but I'm really glad the conversation happened.


  1. I found your blog from Pour Your Heart Out. This is the first time I have read blogs in quite some time, and this is the first one that I read. I feel your pain, about keeping it from your daughter, and your embarrassment, over it happening, even with it being so long ago. You are a SURVIVOR!!! Always remember that! You are not a victim.

  2. I love you. I have tears in my eyes right now. We've always used proper terminology and talked about appropriate boundaries and tried to be as open and honest as possible. But I haven't explained to my kids why I'm so apprehensive about sleepovers. Hearing your story not only makes me happy for you and the wonderful way you've raised your daughter, but makes me hopeful that I will be able to have the conversation without upsetting my kids or hurting them in some way. So thank you. Thank you so very much for all that you do.

  3. I'm glad the right moment came and you were able to tell her. She's right, it's wonderful what you're doing to try to help others.

  4. Speechless here.
    I didn't know this conversation hadn't happened. You daughter is strong and so is your bond.

  5. Great and poignant post. I told both of my daughters about my situation quite some time ago. They needed to know. I have no regrets. The truth is the truth, and the truth eventually comes out anyway. I wanted them to hear about it lovingly from me first. And then we all could move forward.

  6. You can tell you have an amazing relationship with your daughter, the way you were able to have this conversation. It had to be so hard, but so worthwhile. You inspire me. xo

  7. This is amazing to read. I've used the same tactic with my son but have yet to have "the talk". Somehow, keeping things brief and matter-of-fact help me navigate these discussions and I feel much stronger when talking to him. Thank you for writing this and sharing.

  8. Tracie, I think you are one of the most amazing people I have ever come across. Good for you for being open with your daughter. Honesty and trust are incredible building blocks in our relationships with our kids.

  9. Wow! Tracie - you did SO WELL. And what I love most is that in a way, Katerina didn't seem surprised, because she has SEEN the things that you do to support others, and the way you've channelled your awful experiences to bring about healing and protection for other kids. And to educate and enlighten.

    You're a star. A shiny great-big-HUGE one. And FAR braver than I've been today.

  10. WOW, nice work!!! Telling my story to my son is honestly not something I had contemplated until I read your post. I mean, I don't talk about it much anyway, although I would never hide it if asked. I'm not sure when would be the right time - right now I think he is too sensitive for this type conversation (he gets REALLY upset even reading a book where anyone is mistreated).

    We have had talks before about the fact that it's not okay for other people to touch his body and he should always tell one of his parents if anything happens that makes him uncomfortable or if someone asks him to keep a secret. Your post did make me see that it's probably time to take the conversation a little deeper, though. Thank you for blogging about this topic! It's definitely helpful!

  11. This is amazing. I have tears in my eyes. I'm not sure what has brought it on, but I have recently been thinking about when/how/if I will tell my daughter about having an abortion when I was 16. She is only 13 now and hasn't started dating, so it's not like I feel something similar could become an issue for her. I wrote a paper about it in my senior year of high school and I have been thinking about sharing it on my blog. My bestie asked me if that was good idea because of my kids. It's a good point, but then again, they don't read ,my blog right now. I've already talked about having that experience in a blog post, though,so should it matter at this point if I blog about it further? IDK!

  12. Good job, Tracie. So much good in there.

  13. I can't even imagine telling my kids about it. It seems like such a terrifying concept to me. I know why it's important, I know why you did and its brave and honorable and I completely applaud you. I just don't think I could do it. Granted, my kids are too young for any talk, but my son is getting there. Sigh. I should probably start preparing myself now.

  14. I honestly never thought about telling my kids my story. They are far too young now but maybe one day. I think I'll know if and when it's right when the time comes.

  15. You are now officially my hero! What an amazing mother you are, and how blessed is your daughter to grow up in a household where things are called by their proper names!

    You really are helping others more than you know by the way in which you approach the heavy duty topic of sexual abuse, and then sharing it with others.

    Thank you, Tracie!

  16. This was beautiful, Traci. I hope I can be as transparent with my future children. Keep fighting for the survivors!

  17. Tracie - well done - you are such a beautiful person - your story unfortunately is far too common -- keep the good work. Your daughter is special and she has a vry special Mum.

  18. It sounds like you handled a delicate subject with tender truth. Your daughter reacted with such compassion for one so young. You both are doing something very right.

  19. Wow. Tracie. What a difficult but important conversation to have with your daughter; you must be so proud of how she responded to you with concern, empathy, and love.

  20. It is a brave thing to talk about being a survivor of child abuse in any way. Not letting it define who you are is hard, not letting it define who your children become makes you Mom of the Year. Good Job!

  21. wow. you are a wonderfully courageous woman. more power to you and your daughter. thanks for sharing. #sitsgirls

  22. Tracie, I am finally reading this and I am so glad that you have had this talk. You both are so amazing and this is so powerful. Your words truly do so much for so many. You are an advocate and your daughter sees that and learns from you and you have one amazing little girl right there. Love you, my friend. So much love.

  23. Wow...thank you for sharing such a powerful experience....

  24. You did this perfectly and I'm just completely full of happy for how wonderfully your daughter interacts with you about using proper body names, talking openly, and being proud of you for helping others. Powerful stuff Tracie. Thanks so much for sharing it.

  25. Thank you for sharing. When a loved one told me about the sexual abuse they had gone through, it was a much different story. I was very upset as an adult (which is when I was told) and the survivor kept making excuses for the abuser. The survivor wanted me to think about the abuser in good terms. I am thankful the abuser died before I was born, before my sisters were born. Sadly, I think the survivor would not have thought the abuser would have abused us as well. I am still angry that the survivor wants me to only think about the abuser with love and caring. Thank you for not excusing your abusers behavior.

  26. Oh Tracie, You are an amazingly brave woman and mother. How scary to have this talk, but what a time of healing (I would think?) too. It's just beautiful that your daughter can see how you've used something bad for good. Not just good for you, but good for others. You are beautiful!

  27. I told my daughter just the other day. I was talking to someone at the local SARS office and I waved her away-- and I wanted to let her know why. She took it well in stride, but then, my wife's also a survivor and she did fantastically well telling her about that. It was part of the talk, part and parcel, really.

  28. Tracie,
    We have been following each other for a long time and I am so proud of you! You have been an unyielding advocate and a beautiful engaged mother to your daughter. I can't imagine a better conversation. You inspire me.