How To Tell a Child About a Sexual Assault

By Catherine Pearlman

August 18, 2017 4 min read

Dear Family Coach: I was sexually assaulted in college. I never told anyone in my family. It's taken years, but I am not in pain anymore. As my daughter begins her freshman year of high school, I am feeling the urge to tell her my story. I want her to know what can happen to girls, but I also don't want to frighten her. When and how should I tell her? — Afraid

Dear Afraid: It must have been difficult to go through an assault without sharing it with your family. I'm glad you have been able to find a path to feeling less pain. It is perfectly appropriate to tell your daughter your story. It can make the lessons of safety more relevant.

Parents should start talking to young children about safety as it pertains to their bodies and appropriate touching. These conversations should include how to say no to unwanted advances, when to seek out a grown-up for help and why kids shouldn't be asked to keep secrets with adults. As kids approach high school and college, though, parents should be more specific in talking about avoiding sexual threats and the reality of sexual assault. Here is where your own experience comes in. Introduce the concepts of rape and date rape, and the dangers of drugs and drinking. Talk about safety planning and going out with a partner. Remind your daughter that she can contact you for a pickup at any time, in any situation, with no questions asked. Safety first. Then, if you feel comfortable, share some of your story. Since she is still young, you can leave out some of the harsher details. Answer her questions, and tell her she can revisit this discussion at any time in the future.

Talking about your experience will likely bring up some feelings you thought you put to bed years ago. Be mindful about loading too much on your daughter, and don't be shy to seek support from a friend or therapist if you need it.

Dear Family Coach: I just had my third son eight months ago, and our home is fully stocked with everything a little boy would need (toys, books and even clothing). As his first birthday approaches (and then Christmas shortly after), how do I politely let family know that we do not need any gifts for this little guy? I don't want to seem ungrateful, but toys would be so unnecessary, as he has the benefit of all his big brothers' toys. — No Gifts, Please

Dear No Gifts: Your approach is admirable. Children are regularly showered with gifts they often don't need or use. More is just more. Your son is only going to be 1 year old, and he won't know whether he receives gifts or not. So maybe this year, you can adopt a maternity shelter and ask friends and family to bring a gift to share. I don't think it's nice to just donate gifts without preparing guests in advance. That can be hurtful.

As your son grows up, you will have to find balance. It would be harsh to only allow the bigger boys to receive gifts and the littlest one only have hand-me-downs. Instead of receiving many toys, you might pick something larger and request friends buy it together. Also, put some gifts away for a rainy day. Just because presents arrive at certain times doesn't mean kids should open them all at once. It's likely some family members will not respect your wishes and insist on buying your baby gifts. Go ahead and let them. Consider it a good deed to politely accept what is given.

Dr. Catherine Pearlman, the founder of The Family Coach, LLC, advises parents on all matters of child rearing. To write to Dr. Pearlman, send her an email at [email protected] To find out more about Dr. Catherine Pearlman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

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