Taking Care of You

Taking Care Of You

When facing family stress, it is important to take care of yourself.  You could be a parent who has learned their child has engaged in a problematic sexual behavior and/or learned that your child has been impacted or harmed by another child.  You are likely to be experiencing a large range of emotions. It is normal to feel confused, angry, guilty, ashamed, afraid, disappointed, or even in denial that this could have occurred.

As you face the next steps, it is important to take care of yourself. Think of it in this way – your child’s well being, in many ways, depends on your well-being. They look up to you, and they need you. As a caregiver of a child with problematic sexual behavior, or as a parent of a child impacted by another child’s problematic sexual behavior, or both, you are taking an essential step–learning– in helping your child and your family.

You’re not alone. There is hope!

Effective treatments are available for both the youth who initiated the problematic sexual behavior and the youth who was impacted by the problematic sexual behavior.

Develop Healthy Coping Mechanisms To Deal With Stress.

Stress can take a huge toll on your body, mind, and spirit, impacting your reactions to certain situations. Much of your child's or adolescent’s response will reflect your actions.

Healthy coping includes finding ways to share feelings, calm down, and resetting physically. Deep breathing. Mindfulness. Meditation. Work out. Take a daily walk. Explore the outdoors. Spend time with friends. Practice gratitude. Set aside time for hobbies.

Visit an online mindful meditation app, there are tons of free ones online. Try a few here.

Connect with Others for Support

In a situation like this, you’re probably spending a lot of time with your child, providing necessary supervision and/or trying to make them feel safe and protected.

But make sure you spend time with adults, too. This can provide important types of support, like emotional support, connection, and even laughter to help relieve some stress.

There may be adults in your life who need to know the details of what’s happening with your family because they provide supervision of your children or because they are primary supports for you. Other adults can provide connection and support to you without needing to know all of the details.


Remind Yourself Of These Things:

Your mind may be filled with many negative thoughts, instead of ruminating on these remember these things.

The emotions you are experiencing are valid and okay. There’s not a right or wrong way to feel about what has happened. Many others have been in your shoes and felt the same way.

Youth engage in problematic sexual behavior even despite parents doing all the right things. Your child’s behavior is not your fault.

Most youth do not go on to continue to engage in problematic sexual behavior, especially after appropriate treatment.

Children can heal and go on to live happy lives and have healthy relationships.

Effective treatment for both the youth engaging in the problematic sexual behavior and for children impacted by the problematic sexual behavior have been developed and tested. These treatments are designed to include YOU to ensure best outcomes for your children and to provide support. Information about effective treatments can be found here: Now What? What to Expect Out of Treatment ; ¿Ahora que? Lo que se puede esperar del tratamiento?

Caregivers have created this guide to help other parents know what to expect out of treatment. Taking an active role in your youth’s treatment can help you also gain support.

How You Talk To Your Child/Teen Is Important

It’s okay for your child to know you are upset with their behavior, people were impacted, and it may take a long time to regain trust. Your child also needs to know that you are going to support them to help them learn and move forward. Leaning into your child during this time might be challenging, but many caregivers cite that it’s one of the most important things they did for themselves and their relationships.

Take Care Of Your Body 

Set aside some time to keep yourself healthy. You’ll be a better caregiver if you do. Make sure you get enough sleep and maintain a quality diet.

Contact Support

In addition to engaging in your child’s treatment to learn and gain support, if you find you are in need of more individualized help for YOU, organizations like American Psychological Association can provide information on hotlines, therapy, local emotional support groups, and more.

Siblings and Impacted Children

It is critical to prioritize the well-being of children who have been directly impacted by other children’s problematic sexual behavior as well as siblings. Children who have experienced problematic sexual behavior from another youth can exhibit a wide range of outcomes. Further, siblings who may not have been directly involved in the problematic sexual behavior can be affected by the events and responses. It is important to make sure all children have the support they need as they grow. An initial assessment with a licensed mental health provider can help determine well-being and treatment needs.

It is important that caregivers look for a pattern of changes in their child’s behavior or emotions. Have they suddenly become withdrawn or really irritable with friends and family? Do they seem a lot more nervous or jumpy? Are they having nightmares or suddenly intrusive memories about scary things that have happened? Have they started wetting the bed again after growing out of those issues?

Some children may exhibit trauma-related symptoms after experiencing problematic sexual behavior from another child. These symptoms include things like nightmares, re-enacting the behaviors in play or drawings, avoiding specific people or places that remind them of what happened, negative feelings about themselves or the world, increased jumpiness, difficulties concentrating, or irritability. If your child who was impacted is showing symptoms that are consistent with posttraumatic stress, it is important to have them assessed by a licensed mental health professional. Some children who have experienced sexual behavior from another child don’t show trauma-related symptoms at all. Rather, they start to have a lot of behavior problems. They may act out at home or school, refuse to listen, or have big tantrums or outbursts. Children with these kinds of behaviors that began after being impacted by sexual behavior from another child are likely to benefit from a trauma-informed behavioral treatment treatment from a mental health professional.

Other children may show a mix of other mental health symptoms, like anxiety or depression. They may withdraw from friends and families or from activities that they really used to enjoy.

Some children don’t really have any negative reactions from the experience of sexual behavior. They may not have perceived the experience as negative. An immediate response of belief and support may have minimized the impact. Teaching children who have been impacted by sexual behavior simple rules around healthy boundaries with other children and ensuring they know some basic abuse prevention skills is enough for them.

If you notice a significant change in your child’s emotions or behaviors after they experienced problematic sexual behavior from another child, we recommend that you reach out to a mental health provider in your area for assessment and support. Specifically, agencies where therapists are trained in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy are a good starting point when searching for a provider for an assessment. A list of Nationally Certified TF-CBT therapists can be found here: https://tfcbt.org/therapists/

Learn more about treatment for impacted children through this webinar by expert Dr. Esther Deblinger here.

The family situation is more complicated when siblings are involved in the problematic sexual behavior. In some circumstances, in order to have immediate safety, changes in the family living situation may change. See Safety Planning sections for more details. Always consider the victim and/or impacted child’s possible wishes, well-being, and responses when making decisions. Avoid any pressure to live with or be reunified with children who have caused harm. Having all family members involved in evidence based treatments can bring healing and hope.

Find information about evidence-based treatments through the California Evidence-Based Clearinghouse and OJJDP’s Evidence Based Program directory.

Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavior Therapy is an effective treatment for youth whose problematic sexual behavior is driven by trauma experiences. Visit https://tfcbt.org/ and https://oklahomatfcbt.org/about-tf-cbt/about-tf-cbtresearch/ for more info.

Signs that may warrant additional support
Signs that may warrant additional support:
  • You notice your fear or anger is not decreasing, even with child treatment
  • You are experiencing isolation, anxiety, hopelessness, or depression
  • Your family or marital relationships are struggling or you are struggling to maintain relationships with your other children
  • You find your own experiences of victimization or trauma have been triggered
  • You think you need additional support