Child abuse

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What you can do if a child talks about abuse

When a child or young person tells you something about being harmed, it's important to give them your full attention - without making them feel scared, or to feel they have done something wrong.

They may have deliberately decided to tell you, or the information may come out accidentally.

You may feel disgust, sadness, anger or sometimes disbelief.

Remember, these are your feelings and the child has their own.

You need to put your emotions to one side and be there for the child.

When a child talks about abuse

When a child or young person talks about being abused they may:

  • feel confused, scared, guilty, ashamed, sad, angry or powerless
  • not understand that their caregiver's behaviour may be abusive
  • believe they are responsible for the abuse
  • want to protect the person responsible - and be frightened for them
  • want to protect family or their own reputation
  • have been threatened with more harm to themselves or others if they tell someone.

If a child talks to you about being abused, you should do the following:

Listen to the child

Be calm, patient and listen supportively to the child - let them use their own words and don't interrupt them. Respond sensitively and don't judge.

Reassure them

Help the child or young person feel safe to talk. Reassure them the abuse is not their fault.

Respect them

Respect the fact the child may only tell you some details. Acknowledge their bravery and strength. Don't make promises you can't keep. 

Don't ask them lots of questions - leave the investigating and fact finding to trained people.

Tell the child that you will need to talk to someone whose job it is to keep them safe.

You should then make a report.


This information was adapted from the Parent Easy Guide series © Parenting SA, Government of South Australia.

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Last updated: 29 January 2016


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