My 4 year old was molested by a 12 year old girl and her younger brother, age 9. I don't know everything that happened but she is in counseling at the moment. Every night she won't go to sleep and says she'll have nightmares. In the beginning of her telling me this, I believed her claims of nightmares. Now I feel she uses it as an excuse for everything she does that she not suppose to be doing or whenever I try to discipline her, she starts talking about being hurt. I still talk to her about what happened whenever she brings it up. But it is not seeming to help. Also she gets anger very easily and scratches her face or bites herself. I really don't know what to do. Before the abuse, my baby was a happy, loving, caring, bubbly child. Now it seems her days are filled with darkness and there is nothing I can do to help. Do you have any advice for me? I am lost and feel horrible that this has happened to my baby and I feel helpless. She's my baby and I just want her to be happy again.
Please help me!!
From: Sad and don't know what to do
Dear Sad and don't know what to do,
I am so sorry for what your daughter is going through, and for what you are going through, as well, and I commend you for getting her counseling. I urge you to talk to this person, too, or find another professional for you to talk to. I get the feeling that you are experiencing some guilt or responsibility for this event, a totally typical reaction. But you need help getting past it so you can get yourself and your parenting back to normal.
By that I mean: don't feel guilty for getting back to your typical routines and limit-setting! You probably initially felt the need to cut her some slack in terms of setting limits and discipline because you thought that would help her heal. But that's not the way these things compute to young children. Children feel safe and secure when life has familiar routines and a sense of structure, especially including consistency in limit-setting. When they are unsure of the boundaries, or feel insecure, they tend to push the boundaries more, almost as if they are asking, "When will mom say no, like she used to? What if I do this? What about this?"
Children who experience stress or trauma often regress, so that may be part of what's going on, depending on how recently the event was. That could account for the bedtime behavior and nightmares. I wouldn't question her nightmares, at least not to her, but I would wean her from that behavior by staying with her for shorter and shorter periods of time. Instead of lying down with her, sit at the edge of the bed and rub her back. After a few nights of that -- or maybe even a week of that; you'll have to see how it goes -- sit in a chair next to the bed. The goal is to eventually get the chair outside the door. If she wakes up in the middle of the night and wants you to stay with her, make her a little "bed" on the floor in your room where she can sleep instead of expecting you to get into her bed. These strategies take time, patience and consistency -- don't start them unless you're willing and able to see them through. It's also possible that sleeping on the floor of your room could become a habit from which you eventually will need to wean her, too. This is all a matter of trade-offs and what works best for your family.
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