Seeking Professional Help for Your Sexually Abused Child

Sexually abused children usually need professional help in dealing with a range of behavioral problems. Here are some things parents should be aware of.

Child victims can exhibit a range of behaviors, including suffering from nightmares, fears, regression in self care skills, sexual acting out and repeating or "replaying" the actual sexual abuse incidents with dolls or peers. There is no way to predict which behaviors your child will exhibit.

Children will attempt to process or understand their sexual abuse experience on their own. Therefore, children show various degrees of severity from the effects of sexual abuse. For example, a child fondled by a non-family member could show serious effects of his/her experience, whereas a child involved in an incest experience may show minimal effects. To complicate matters more, children can function well in their day care/school setting but not function well at home and vise versa. As a parent it is your difficult job to judge the seriousness of your child's symptoms and whether your child could be in need of professional counseling.

How to judge the seriousness of your child's behaviors will probably feel confusing. The following are some thoughts and ideas to consider:

1) How long has your child been experiencing the behavior(s)? For example, has the behavior been occurring for a couple days or persisted for weeks?

2) How intense or frequent is the behavior(s)? For example, is your child having nightmares every night or once a week?

3) Is your child having behavioral difficulties at home, school or day care or in all of these settings?

4) Is the behavior(s) interfering with your child's ability to function or get through everyday routines?

5) Is the behavior(s) disturbing or upsetting the everyday routine of your family?

6) Could your child's behavior(s) be a result of a new "stage" of development experienced by most children his/her age and not specifically related to the sexual abuse?

7) Is your child accepting of help from you to change the problematic behavior?

Your child is probably in need of professional counseling and guidance if: behaviors persist over time, are disruptive to either his/her routines or their family's routines, causes difficulty in either the school or daycare setting and he/she resists help from you.

We've discussed ways to tell when your child may need special help but how will you know if you may need special help to cope with your child's sexual abuse? Some things to consider are: if you feel overwhelmed or unable to help your child; when your own childhood issues of sexual abuse resurface because of your child's sexual abuse; and finally when the focus of your child's sexual abuse disrupts your everyday routines and your own emotional needs are not being met.

Professional mental health services will probably focus on resolving your child's problematic behaviors but also reducing the negative effects of the sexual abuse that contributed to the behaviors. You are encouraged to involve yourself in these services to learn how to help your child with their difficult behaviors.


  • Dane County Commission on Sensitive Crimes
  • American Psychological Association

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2022, January 11). Seeking Professional Help for Your Sexually Abused Child, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 18 from

Last Updated: January 16, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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