It might be difficult to know what to say to a child who has been abused. After all, a person so young has been through a horrific ordeal. However, there are phrases that a person can say to make it feel better for the young person.
Abused children want to be heard. Hearing their story is a great way to validate them. Just listening can be a tremendous comfort. They are likely scared of adults. The authority that adults had over them in the past was abused. So if they tell you something and you do not take them seriously, then it is like they are being hurt all over again. Children will probably go on to be quite close-lipped after that. They might even repress the memory if they do not feel that it is safe to share. Many will develop mental illnesses because their biological genes were triggered. Childhood is the perfect time to hear a child, not when it is too late and they are adults who cannot trust.
Tell an abused child that the authorities care. This is the most important message that a person can get across. Most children do not understand who to confide in. However, professionals have so many avenues in place so children can get the help that they need. Make sure that you let the child know that you cannot solve the problem alone, but that with working with other adults, it can be overcome. The child needs to know that disclosing is only the first step and that there are many more avenues in the works after your talk. Tell the child that there is hope.
Make sure never to normalize abuse. Do not say that it did not happen. Do not accuse the child of lying. Yes, there are some children that lie but the facts will come out later. The most important part is that if the child is being abused, that someone hears who will do something about it. Sometimes children are more sensitive, and their idea of abuse isn’t necessarily that bad. For example, their mom might yell at them to clean their room. While yelling is not ideal communication, it does not mean that the child needs to be taken away from the home. But counseling for both parties is needed.
However, it is not your job to shut the child down or question them. You don’t even need to give them a lecture. You can listen and then make a judgment about what needs to be done. In some cases, you might even need to tell an authority to make sure they implement measures such as counseling. You personally do not need to go to the parent and tell them about the abuse. Parents might not believe the child, be involved, or simply be aware of the child’s complaint already. You are the trusted party to this child’s communication, and you need to hold this trust as sacred. Make sure you tell the child that you have heard, and that something good will be done about the problem.