For those of us who have traumatized children in our care, it is difficult to know how to help them. A recent study from Canada tells us that being a safe person for children to confide in may be one of the best things that we can do.

The study surveyed more than 17,000 adults, including 651 survivors of child sexual abuse. The researchers found lower levels of good mental health among the abuse survivors than the general population (65% to 77%), but the results for the abuse survivors was nevertheless surprisingly high.

When the researchers looked deeper into the results, they found that people with an early history of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, or chronic pain were more likely to have currently negative mental health. The strongest predictor of good mental health was having a confidant.

If we are parenting children who have suffered from abuse, the lesson from  this study is to (1) give the children a safe place to confide their fears and anxieties, (2) obtain professional help as early as possible for depression, anxiety, or chronic pain, and (3) do everything we can to head off substance abuse.

All too often, reports and studies about child abuse emphasize the negative consequences. There is no doubt that abuse has profound impacts on children. But it does not have to be a psychological death sentence. We can help increase our children’s resilience and, consequently, their ability to have a happy life in spite of their difficulties.

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Debbie Ausburn

I make my living as a lawyer, but what I do is take care of other people’s children.