SALT LAKE CITY — According to the Child Molestation Research and Prevention Institute, at least 3 million children in America are reportedly molested before turning 13 years old.
Protective parents want to know if something has happened to their child, and there are many signs to help you know when to seek further attention and help.
Physical symptoms may include:
- painful urination
- frequent infections
- blood in their underwear
- unexplained injuries or actual damage to the body
Behavioral symptoms may include:
- Avoiding specific places or people. Most kids go through phases of separation anxiety, but when this becomes continuous and the child cannot be consoled, there may be a specific reason the child does not want to be there.
- Wetting (or other behavioral regression). Like other behavior regression, sudden return to bed wetting or soiling clothes after toilet training is often a red flag for high anxiety or trauma. Sometimes it is one or the other, sometimes it is due to biological causes. A visit with the doctor can help determine what is going on and help you know what to do about it.
- Inappropriate touching. It is common at different developmental stages to be curious about people's bodies or want to explore and understand. It's a sign of something wrong when the child continues inappropriate touching (of themselves or others) despite redirection, especially if it mimics behavior they may have witnessed or experienced.
Emotional symptoms may include:
- Sudden changes in mood or personality style. All kids have good days and hard days, different emotional responses, and different developmental phases of emotional development. But if a normally outgoing child suddenly becomes withdrawn or shy, or a normally well-tempered child suddenly becomes consistently aggressive, that may be a red flag.
- Guilt or shame. If your child's normally happy temperament changes to that look the child gets when in trouble and doesn't bounce back to "normal," this is a red flag. It's often not just a red flag that children may have been abused, but also that they think it was their fault or that they were threatened into not telling.
- Nightmares. All kids have nightmares, and some even go through phases of night terrors, but sudden onset or nightmares, or nightmares that won't go away or are specific in nature may be related to a traumatic experience.
You can teach your children basic safety without making them afraid. It is good to teach them that no one, other than a parent or a doctor, should ever see or touch the private places (or "swimsuit areas") of their body.
It is important to tell children to say no if they are ever uncomfortable with how someone is touching them. It is critical to teach them to tell a safe adult if they ever feel like they have been touched inappropriately or are uncomfortable with how someone has touched them.
However, depending on the nature of what has happened, the child may be too afraid or ashamed to tell anyone. It is important to know the signs that a child has been molested so that you can seek help immediately.
If the child needs immediate medical attention, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. You could also call your regular doctor, a counselor or a hotline like the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline (800-422-4453).
Emily Christensen, Ph.D., lives with her husband in Oklahoma. Her Ph.D. is in marriage and family therapy, and she is pursuing a degree in Hebrew and Jewish studies. Her blog is www.housewifeclass.com, and her email is email@example.com.