If you are considering getting treatment for a child with Problematic Sexual Behavior (PSB), these are some of the things I think all caregivers should know.
1. You are not alone, you are not the cause.
Realizing that your child has a sexual behavior problem can be one of the most difficult things a parent can face. Sibling sexual abuse occurs 5 times more often than adult/child incest. Sadly, this puts a parent in the almost unbearable situation of trying to meet the needs of both children. There are many factors related to the cause of childhood sexual behaviors; and caregivers may have some degree of responsibility with some of those factors. But, yourchild is also responsible for his/her behavior. Figuring it all out is tough, attending a class with others in your situation may be very helpful.
2. Your child depends on you to face the truth.
I’m guessing a part of you wants to avoid this whole subject. There mayalso be a part of you that is very concerned. The first step is to get a thorough evaluation by a professional. Some behaviors maybe considered natural and healthy, but others are coercive or abusive. Perhaps there has been exposureto unhealthy sexuality. Most families need a neutral party, outside of the family, to help investigate the complex and embarrassing subject of sexual behavior in children. Even if it never happens again, without some type of intervention, your child may suffer long term emotional consequences. It’s hard, but you CAN handle the truth.
3.Talking about sexuality with a child is awkward.
Some caregivers get very nervous knowing that their child will be in treatment talking about sexual things. Talk to your child’s therapist. You can work out a plan in which your family’s values can still be implemented in the area of sexuality, even if your child has sexual behavior problems. However, you must be willing to talk to your child in a healthy way that does not create more feelings of shame for past behavior. The best place to start is to get a good book for sex education. Research has shown that talking about healthy sexuality and sexual respect actually REDUCES the chance of sexual behavior problems in the future
4. A good therapist is hard to find.
There are hundreds of therapists and just as many theories about the best way to provide treatment. Certainly, a key component is finding someone you respect and feel comfortable with. A good clue that a therapist has NOT had recent training will be if they use old terminology such as: adolescent sex offender, perpetrator/perp, or molester. More information about choosing a good therapist can also be found on the website for the National Child Traumatic Stress Network http://www.nctsnet.org/
5. Treatment works better if the caregivers are involved.
Research has shown that the number one thing that helps kids succeed in treatment is their caregivers’ involvement. Youth with caregiver support are more likely to admit their mistake plus learn new behaviors and skills faster. Caregivers should partner with the therapist to help develop treatment strategies and participate in sessions. Other expectations of parents include: reading materials, talking about issues at home, implementing safety plans, changing the home environment if needed and providing the recommended amount of supervision.
6. It takes a long time to figure out the whole story.
It is very difficult to figure out the whole story; one must consider individual, family and environmental factors. Some children have so much shame from their behavior, that it delays their progress. My experience has been that IF there are deeply hidden secrets, it takes months before they come out. A child must first feel emotionally and physically safe in therapy AND at home. Consequently, the treatment process can be long, usually 6 to 9 monthsof weekly sessions, and you will probably feel like quitting before treatment is over. The benefit of sticking with it is knowing that you have done all you can to help your child have sexual respect and healthy sexuality during adolescence and adulthood.
7. The story usually gets complicated and messy.
There is almost always more than one reason why a child has acted out sexually. Some children act out sexually as a result of being abused; usually there are other elements. Your therapist will help identify factors that made your child vulnerable to having inappropriate sexual behaviors and problem solve ways to help. There are lots of things caregivers can do. Sexual behavior in children (before puberty) is different than in teens or adults due to the lack of hormones, i.e. there is no hormonal based “sex drive”. However, children can be VERY compelled to initiate or participate in adult like sexual behaviors; it’s complicated.
8. It takes more than just saying you are sorry.
Your child will need an individualized treatment plan after the evaluation. Plus, if a child has been a victim of sexual abuse, those issues are also a part of therapy. All kids need to take responsibility for their problem behavior, but I believe more is needed to provide complete healing. Repairing their mistake by intentionally doing something positive reduces unhealthy shame for the behavior. It takes some creativity and courage, but effective reparation can be very powerful. Other components of successful treatment include: sex education, body ownership skills, following the privacy rules, improving peer relationships and self control strategies.
9. Balanced supervision is your new best friend.
Remember to stay balanced with supervision of your child. First, please don’t pretend that this problem with sexual behavior never existed; your child is very likely to need some sort of supervision for a while, maybe even a long time. Second, try not to be paranoid that your child is destined to do this again, and thus, never allow participation in age appropriate activities. Third, if your child does have another incident, be prepared ; it is difficult to change a behavior that is so physically rewarding. Your therapist can help you know how to react to your child if you find them in another unhealthy sexual situation.
10. The story is still unfinished; there is hope for the future.
Just because your child has problems with sexual behavior or has had an arrest for child on child sexual assault now, does not mean they will have problems as an older teen or adult. Research has shown that the earlier a child gets treatment, the better. Statistically, a 7 yr. old child will have a 4-5 % chance and a 15 year old child will have a 9-13% chance of having sexual behavior problems in the future. Some families have been traumatized for generations. However, with lots of hard work, even families impacted by sibling incest can reunify and be grateful for their “new kind of normal”. Restoring the family relationships in a healthy way will bless your children and the generations to come.
SHERYL OVERBY MS LIMHP 402-592-0328
WOODHAVEN COUNSELING ASSSOCIATES