Meaningful Age-Appropriate Conversations
Speaking with your Child about Sexual Harassment
By Lucy Cheskin
Understanding signs of trauma
Young children who have experienced sexual harassment, sexual assault, or sexual abuse might not be able to process their emotions in a way that allows them to vocalize their trauma. Understanding and recognizing the signs of trauma are critical to ensuring that your child receives all of the support they need if they have faced or are facing sexual harassment or assault by a classmate, teacher, or school staff.
A number of resources are available that will help you gain a better understanding of what trauma may look like for your child. For example, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) provides extensive material in English and Spanish, as well as resources in other languages. Although directed at educators, one particularly useful factsheet from NCTSN, their Child Trauma Toolkit, breaks down the psychological and behavioral impact of trauma on different age groups.
Activities to spark conversation
Helping your child feel comfortable expressing and recognizing their emotions can make it easier for them to tell you what they’ve experienced and what they are feeling. You can consider activities that encourage emotional openness. For example, choose an emotion and have your child act it out, or have your child act out an emotion of their choosing while you play the guesser. Alternatively, this same activity can be done with drawing rather than acting out the emotion.
To better understand how safe your child feels at school, consider an activity that allows them to non-verbally indicate where they feel safe and unsafe at school. For example, draw a rough map of common places at school like the classroom, bathroom, playground, etc. and have your child place different stickers in places where they feel safe or unsafe. You can then use this map as a starting place to talk about what makes them feel safe or unsafe in the various places marked.
Books & resources
If you feel that a book or a short video might be helpful to you and your child, there are a number of reading lists available with age appropriate resources.
King County Sexual Assault Resource Center has a helpful and extensive list of resources, including:
- He Told Me Not to Tell guide (King County Sexual Assault Resource Center)
- Talking to your kids about sexual assault (King County Sexual Assault Resource Center)
- Talking to your 4-11 year old (King County Sexual Assault Resource Center)
- Guide for Parents (King County Sexual Assault Resource Center)
Additional resources include:
- Recommended Books about Child Sexual Abuse (List of books for children on healing & recovery from Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center)
- A Terrible Thing Happened (book for young children)
- Consent at Every Age (Harvard Graduate School of Education)
- How My Third-Graders and I Address Consent (Teaching Tolerance)
Disclaimer: Please note that any book found on the list is the view of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of Equal Rights Advocates as an organization. ERA has not reviewed or vetted every book on these lists.
If your child has experienced sexual harassment or assault by a classmate, teacher, school staff, or in an educational program setting, please see our K-5 Sexual Harassment Know Your Rights Guide. You can also reach out to us for free legal advice or legal counsel by filling out this form on our website. Equal Rights Advocates is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, and all our services are completely free of charge and confidential.