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Dr. Mark
Dr. Mark, Psychotherapist
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Experience:  Dr. Mark is a PhD in psychology in private practice
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how is the best way to talk to a 3 year old about questions

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how is the best way to talk to a 3 year old about questions of sexual abuse?

Hi! I'll be glad to be of help with this issue.

I can imagine how distressing this situation must be for you. You are clearly a loving and caring parent and you are now facing one of the things that every parent today dreads: the possibility that your child has been molested. And the worst thing is that you have no clarity about whether it did or did not happen. I'm so sorry you are going through this; it really is scary and upsetting and so frustrating.

And this is actually the key to my answer to you that you need to consider and think about. At 3 years old, your son is not fully verbal yet. And he picks up emotional signals in ways he can't express or understand. So, we don't know if he was picking up your growing worry and anxiety in asking him questions or if he was being frank and realistic or if he was just saying yes and no for whatever reasons. That makes this scenario such a nightmare for parents. On one hand you can't ruin the teacher's career; on the other hand you have to protect your son.

You don't have enough information right now. You need more. I don't know the school set up to know if you need to keep him home or with a baby sitter until this is cleared up, but you may need to consider that step. That's first.

The second step in gathering the information you need is to find the professional to talk with him. Again, you can't make this public. Therefore, his pediatrician may be your next stop. Going to a psychologist or psychotherapist may be too big a step for you right now. But his doctor, IF you have a good relationship with the doctor and you trust the doctor's intelligence and sensitivity, is a person that he knows and respects because you respect him/her. So see if the doctor is willing to see him and ask questions. Because you can't involve the preschool, of course.

If you need, a psychologist or psychotherapist may be your best way of getting an answer. Here is the web address for Psychology Today's therapist directory. You can sort by zip codes and when you see someone who seems like they might be helpful (you can see a photo of the therapist) look at the listing and see if they list children as their main population they work with or at least one of them. This shouldn't take more than 2-3 visits; this number would be necessary to give your son a chance to become familiar and comfortable with the therapist.

Good Therapy is a non profit directory. Same idea as the one above:


If all this is too much for you, then you will need to start off giving the teacher the benefit of the doubt. Then you will need to start asking your son more slowly (over days or a week or so) questions. He's going to have all his antennae up trying to figure out what answers you want. So, you're going to have to be subtle and lead up to your point slowly, gradually, and not directly. Then after you've found something out, go on to a different subject so he doesn't get too anxious about your inquiring. Remember: you're going to be nervous even if you don't notice it and he will pick up on it.

You may want to have some picture books to use in this. Here are some of the tried and true books to choose from to see which ones you want to use in this project with him:

My Body Is Private by Linda Girard.

The Right Touch: A Read Aloud Book by Sandy Kleven.

Some Parts are not for Sharing by Julie Federico.

Those are My Private Parts by XXXXX XXXXXsen.

Okay, I wish you the very best!

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