What to Watch Out For While Communicating with Children

Emotional reactions that prevent communication

The child might have a lot of reasons leading to their inability to speak, some might be:

1. Shame in talking about the sexual abuse.

2. Lack of trust. The child has had no time to get to know you or the other adult professionals involved in the case.

3. Anger and hostility. The child or teenager has had to tell their story numerous times. They may have been mistreated by their parents or the professionals interviewing them.

4. The child might be scared that they might be punished if they say something wrong and would be confused as to what to say and what not to say.

5. The child might have some reservations as to how they can talk to adults. They might not talk to adults who they don’t know or just aren’t comfortable enough communicating with.

6. The child may lack the words to describe such an emotional experience. Or they might be overwhelmed by their feelings when they are trying to get it all out.

7. The child might sometimes want someone they know, who they are familiar with, to be in their vicinity, for them to provide support so they can talk.

8. Realize that the sexual abuse children have experienced is not their total existence. There are other parts to their lives as well. They do not want to focus exclusively on the abuse.

Some other reasons why children, especially teenagers, would not want counseling

1. Teenagers often resist counseling because they don’t like being told what to do.

2. They may belong to a family or social group that has never worked with counsellors before.

3. Some family members may believe the best plan is to take revenge, not get help.

4. Family members or whoever is in authority might think the best way is to ignore the abuse.

5. Some might think it is not necessary to share their family business with a stranger.

Non-verbal cues

1. Children are extremely sensitive to non-verbal cues (body language): It is their first language. If what you say is contradicted by your tone of voice or your body language the child will become suspicious. For example, if your voice sounds welcoming to the child but your body posture is closed and stiff, the child will sense your discomfort.

2. It is important for the professional to monitor what his or her non-verbal behaviour is conveying to the child. Be careful not to influence the child non-verbally, through small gestures or posture, for giving what you think is the “right” answer or rejecting them for not giving the “expected” answer. Also be aware of unwittingly prejudicing the child by responding differentially to what they say. For example, by showing greater interest in sexual or violent material.

Other factors that hinder communication

1. If you get upset or emotional in front of the child, that hinders communication.

2. If you become uncomfortable or embarrassed when the child is emotional.

3. If you verbally or non-verbally indicate criticism and pass judgement on the child.

4. If you talk too much and not let the child respond or ask too many questions.



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