Georgia Center For Resources & Support
Serving Adoptive Families



How to Parent the Abused Child PDF Print E-mail

with Dr. Danielle Levy, Ph.D.

Tuesday, the 11th of November 2008

cathy: We would like to welcome each of you to our chat tonight. Danielle Levy, Ph.D, with the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy will share insightful information on “How to Parent the Abused Child".

cathy: Dr. Danielle Levy is a licensed clinical psychologist and the VP of Clinical Services at the Georgia Center for Child Advocacy, where she has worked for 8 years. In her current role, Dr. Levy oversees the forensic and clinical programs at this private, nonprofit Child Advocacy Center, providing supervision to staff and students. Dr. Levy also conducts forensic interviews and forensic evaluations with child victims of sexual and severe physical abuse. Dr. Levy has testified numerous times on cases involving child sexual abuse and forensic interviewing, and conducts training on these topics as well.

cathy: Dr. Levy we would like to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to enlighten us on how to better parent children that have been abused.

cathy: How do I address behaviors related to abuse (difficulty trusting, anger, aggression, failing grades, etc.)."

Ric409: Yes, please enlighten us

Cherie : Ric is my husband, and this is one of our great concerns

Shannon H: Can you tell us a little bit about how to begin, as a new parent, to identify traits connected to abuse.

cathy: Dr. Levy as you see we have many question to ask, please fill free to answer them in the order that they are asked.

Cherie : Ric and I are trying to adopt a child and we want to know how to address these issues in small children...ages 5 and under.

DLevy: for Ric, the best thing you can tell your child is that the abuse was not their fault

DLevy: that you support them, and that you'll do everything you can to protect them

DLevy: anger management and aggression are two common problems associated with abuse, as is difficulty concentrating in school

Ric409: Thank you D. Levy

DLevy: therapy almost always helps to focus on coping strategies related to handling difficult or overwhelming feelings

Cherie : DLevy, how do we address the anger and abuse for smaller children? It maybe hard for them to understand or how to relate their feelings?

DLevy: try to keep routines normal, to model appropriate feelings for your child, to reinforce appropriate responses

DLevy: cherie - for younger kids, many of them don't even have the language to express feelings, so one of the first tasks in therapy is to identify feelings - mad, sad, happy, scared

DLevy: once you know they have the language, you can begin helping them identify feelings with experiences

DLevy: again, modeling appropriate feelings and talking about your own - "when I get stuck in traffic, I get so frustrated!"

DLevy: using exaggerated faces on yourself, or looking at books and magazines will help them link their own feelings to experiences

DLevy: once they understand what different feelings "feel" like they can begin to talk about them

DLevy: you can say, "I understand that you're angry about..." and allow them to express their anger safely - exercise, talking, drawing

matt anthony: thank you

Cherie : Thank you..

DLevy: going back to Shannon (I'm really sorry!) - how to identify traits connected to abuse...

DLevy: are you referring to "symptoms" related to abuse? and are you referring to sexual abuse or physical abuse?

DLevy: both types of abuse: difficulty managing feelings, as we've talked about, difficulty concentrating, aggression, unusual sexual knowledge or sexually acting out, isolation and withdrawal,

DLevy: nightmares, other sleep problems, change in attitude, change in eating habits, increase in bedwetting

DLevy: with teenagers and sexual abuse, you may see them become more promiscuous or try to hide their sexuality by dressing differently

Shannon H: Any type. I was thinking mostly of how a non verbal child might exhibit behavior that would help us know there was abuse. You have answered the question well. Thank you.

matt anthony: how will dress typically change

Cherie : How would you identify sexual abuse in a baby?...6-9 months of age

DLevy: Matt - teenaged girls may dress like boys, baggy clothes to hide their bodies, try to deflect any attention away from them

DLevy: they may stop wearing makeup (if they wore it). Or, they may go the other way and become very promiscuous

DLevy: Cherie - with babies, medical evidence is about the only way to identify abuse

DLevy: injuries to the genital areas. if there are injuries, the baby may avoid certain people or situations

DLevy: and same with physical abuse - injuries, avoidance, difficulty with attachment

KimW: Have you noticed that boys that have been abused have sexual Identity problems?

DLevy: the best news about babies, if the abuse is not too severe, there may not be lasting problems

DLevy: with severe abuse and neglect in babies, they may have difficulty forming appropriate attachments with other people

Shannon H: What is the likelihood that a very young child who has expereinced sexual abuse will recall it at a later time?

Cherie : I am in the medical field, in the past, we had cases of babies abnormalities....for an exmaple, when you change a baby's diaper, most babies cross their away of covering their private areas. We had two babies to throw legs back in away that was not normal.

DLevy: Kim - lots of kids who have been sexually abused have sexual identity problems

DLevy: boys who have been molested by males often have the most difficulty because of the stigma of homosexuality

KimW: How do we help these teenagers with sexual Identity problems as parents?

DLevy: but being sexually abused does not typically "turn" a boy into a gay man

Shannon H: What is the best way to help a male who has been abused by other males?

DLevy: the best thing you can always do is to be supportive and accepting, tell them it's not their fault, and keep telling them that

Shannon H: Or for that matter, a female who has been molested by another female?

DLevy: Shannon -encourage boys, if they're worried about their sexuality, like "am I gay because I was molested", we tell them

DLevy: that being molested is something that happened TO them, not what makes them who they are

Ric409: There are so many teenagers that are "gay" as a result of molestation. They feel that it is their fault.

DLevy: Cherie - with young babies, I haven't noticed that they typically cross their legs... I'm not familiar with that behavior

DLevy: Cherie - with young babies, I haven't noticed that they typically cross their legs... I'm not familiar with that behavior

Shannon H: is it unusual for a chidl who has been molested by a member of the opposite sex, to decide that they are homosexual? I know of three teen girls with sexual abuse in their past who have decided as teens that they are homosexual.

DLevy: Shanon - being abused severely as a young child actually may change the way the brain is formed and affect relationships later

DLevy: even if they were preverbal at the time of the abuse

DLevy: this is a result of long-term severe abuse

DLevy: shannon - I haven't found evidence that a history of child molestation is linked to homosexualitya

Shannon H: Two of these girls are sisters and another is a cousin to them, all molested by the same man, also a family member. The abuse has just recently come out.

Cherie : When you change a babies diaper, the legs are in a cross or curled up is not normal for a baby to throw their legs behind their heads....

DLevy: no - right - not to throw their legs behind their heads. I'm not familiar with any research that links that specific behavior with child molestation, though in combination with other behaviors or evidence may be concerning

Cherie : so, how would this effect the child in the future because they were molested. Do all children grow out of this from this age? Or does it haunt them in later years?

DLevy: shannon - and the two girls and the cousin have all "decided" that they are homosexual?

Shannon H: yes. The mothers are very concerned.

DLevy: is it possible that they're distrusting/fearful of males and have decided to stay away from them? ?

DLevy: maybe this is a coping strategy? ?

Shannon H: Anything is possible. it is coming out that the abuse went on for years. All three kept the secret, even from one another, which is not unusual.

DLevy: cherie - with babies, it would all depend upon the severity of the abuse

DLevy: because the brains of babies are still forming at that young age, trauma may affect them

matt anthony: - has joined the chat -

DLevy: because the brains of babies are still forming at that young age, trauma may affect them

Ric409: How do you cope with a child, who has drug abuse in their system? Again, we are speaking about infants or toddlers.

DLevy: I don't see any other questions on the log... I would like to recommend a website that has lots of information for parents


DLevy: another great one for information is

DLevy: and for a library of useful information -

cspivey: if sexual abuse occurred when you, is it likely that the girl would become preoccupied with sex,?

DLevy: Ric - do you mean babies who wore born drug addicted? ?

Ric409: Yes

cspivey: sorry when the girls were young

DLevy: cspivey - I'm not sure I understand the question, but young children who have been exposed to sexual abuse or highly sexualized environments do often become preoccupied with sex

DLevy: Ric - there are some medical complications to babies born on drugs, depending on the type drug, that may be diagnosed at birth

DLevy: in the absence of a diagnosis, some babies born addicted to drugs lag behind their peers in some cognitive/social areas

cathy: Dr. Levy , what can be done to help an abused child recover?

DLevy: but because nurture is such a strong component of child development, many of those delays may be "made up" throughout childhood in a nurturing and

DLevy: stimulating environment

Ric409: What are the signs of drug addiction? I here that some babies may cry alot or eat to curve the habit.

DLevy: The most significant factor in how a child heals from abuse is caregiver support

DLevy: particularly with sexual abuse - if the initial response is support, protection, nurturing, those children will do better

DLevy: therapy is the next best thing for abused kids

DLevy: and there are clinicians who specialize in treating abused kids. our agency, nonprofit, provides individual, group and family treatment for abused kids

DLevy: in fulton and dekalb counties, but child advocacy centers are all over georiga

DLevy: and our services are free

DLevy: ric - crying a lot may be a sign of drugs in the system, but it may also be a sign of lots of other things

DLevy: the best way to really know is a medical diagnosis at birth

DLevy: some drugs will pose much more of a problem than others, and will depend on how frequently the mother

DLevy: used them, and at what points during her pregnancy

DLevy: going back... children who have suffered abuse have had certain rights violated

DLevy: the more experience they have in appropriate, trusting, empowering environments, the better they'll be

DLevy: keep communications open about everything, not just abuse

Ric409: thank you

DLevy: try to give abused kids choices, since they've had other choices taken away

DLevy: but also set appropriate limits and boundaries - that will help them to feel safe, to understand the expectations, and to predict outcomes

Cherie : Thank you Dr. Levy

cathy: Dr. Levy we would like to thank you for sharing such valuable information with us tonight, also thank you for your patience with all the technical difficulties you encountered.

DLevy: in general, abused children need to know that you, as an appropriate adult, will do what you can to keep them protected

cspivey: thank you it was very informative

DLevy: they need to know that they can trust you, even if they've had experiences in the past where they could not trust an adult

cathy: Thanks to each one as well, have a good night.

cathy: This ends our chat for tonight.


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