The recent incidents of child sexual abuse have not only left children and parents in fear and trauma, but have increased the number of parents visiting mental health experts and psychologists to seek help in establishing conversation with their child on sexual abuse and caution them. Psychologists say that ultimate concern is the need of proper communication between parents and children, also taking psychological aid to help cope with the fear of such incidents among children.
Such incidents of crime against children not only affect the victim but public at large, especially parents with young children and those who have been exposed to the news. Therefore, it is important to understand the impact of such news on mental health and increase resilience towards the negative feelings that rise due to such events.
After the Kathua murder and molestation case, there were awareness drives by a few communities and schools to educate children against sexual abuse and caution them against it. Similarly, after sexual molestation of a 11-year-old girl, there has been an increase in the number of parents seeking aid from psychologists. However, mental health experts say that moral values, sex education and adolescent developmental changes need to be discussed as and when time arises and not only when there is a crisis.
“The recent case highlights the need to ensure communication between parents and children, as the child underwent trauma for around seven months and opened up to her sister, while her mother used to stay at home itself. An extra time spent to clarify their behaviour change would help the child to open up to people they trust,” says consultant psychiatrist at Sri Ramachandra Medical Centre Dr Vivian Kapil.
“Usually parents hesitate to talk about thinking their kids are too young. Not arming them with knowledge is equivalent to harming them. It needn't be a serious conversation. The parent can just talk to the child in a soft, calm tone in a friendly manner and explain the kids that there are things he must know like the name of body parts and body boundaries like none should see them naked except the parents and the doctor in presence of parents for the purpose of examination if necessary,” added Dr Vivian.
Allowing a two way communication and trusting the child even if they give hints or early sign is necessary to understand the change in behaviour. Once they ignore, child can go into a shell. Ensuring protection to children where vulnerability is possible is important, say psychologists.
“Parents should keep their channels of communication open, as usually children hesitate to open up with authoritarian or punitive parents. Parents suspecting abuse can encourage child to open up through use of anatomical dolls. Counsellor and psychologists need to encourage parents to be aware of child's emotional needs and not just material needs,” says Dr V. Raman, consultant psychologist at Apollo Hospitals, Dr V Raman.
Being sensitive to child's emotional and behavioural changes such as withdrawn behaviour, reduction in play, socialisation and appetite or sleep changes are some recurrent physical symptoms that need to be watched out, he adds.
Long hours of no supervision from trusted adults, children with disability and less assertive and anxious children are common risk factors.
Parents of children with disability should understand that their child also has adolescent sexual needs like other adolescents, and it is necessary to talk to them on how to deal with it. Many parents consult psychologists on their adolescent boys and girls with intellectual compromise engaging in self stimulatory sexual act in public and do not know how to address it, says Dr Raman.