Parenting Siblings

Siblings are often neglected in the wake of disclosure of sexual abuse within a family. At a time with the victim's needs are paramount, the mother's attention, by necessity, is targeted towards intervention, protectionreporting, and investigation of the sexual abuse. Unfortunately, needs of siblings are minimized or neglected as social services and other professionals prioritize victim and offender needs.
Immediate needs of siblings following disclosure of sexual abuse in a family include:
  • Inclusion in the conversation about the abuse. Children should be informed in language they can understand and provided only necessary content in order to avoid further trauma. Family guidelines should be established that emphasize "no secrets" are allowed. Siblings will experience less anxiety if they know what the family crisis involves.
  • A private conversation should occur with siblings, both individual, and if more than one, as a group, as soon as possible after the disclosure. These conversations are necessary to provide information to siblings about the abuse disclosure and to let them know that they will be protected. It is important that they be involved in family interventions. Siblings may have information necessary to the investigation. 
    • Did the sibling know about the abuse?
    • Did the sibling witness the abuse?
    • If the sibling knew about the abuse, how did she find out? Victim? Perpetrator? Other person?
    • How long did the sibling know about the abuse?
    • What prevented the sibling from reporting the abuse (fear, threats, promise to keep "secret")?
    • Was the sibling sexually abused by the same or another perpetrator?
    • Does the sibling know whether others were abused? 
  • If other children disclose sexual abuse, additional reports, medical examinations, investigations, and counseling interventions will be scheduled.
  • It is important that siblings are given an opportunity to express their feelings about the abuse disclosure and talk about how it affects their lives. Their feelings need to be acknowledged. They are secondary victims of the abuse.           
  • Siblings need to be accepted and treated with patience.
  • Siblings need reassurance that they are loved.
  • Depending on the identity of the perpetrator, abuse disclosure may cause significant loss in the sibling's life. If the perpetrator is father figure, brother, uncle, grandfather - the sibling will be experience a grief process. Counseling for the sibling should be scheduled as soon as possible after disclosure.
  • Depending on the identity of the perpetrator, it is possible that the sibling will deny the abuse and align with the perpetrator. In this case, the mother will have to negotiate the support role carefully. Supporting the victim and other children will be emotionally draining. You as mother will need support and counseling.
  • Siblings may be angry at you, the mother. They may blame you or believe that you knew and did not protect. You will need to respond with love, compassion, and understanding, without defending yourself.
  • Siblings may have known about the abuse and not told. In that case they may feel guilty and responsible. It is important that all children in the family understand that the sole responsibility for the sexual abuse of a child rests with the adult offender.
  • Siblings may feel anger at the victim for telling. This may cause significant animosity in the family. It will be important that you carry the peacemaker role and help the children get through this stage without undue harm to relationships. 

Mothers can help the family survive this crisis by planning times for fun. Schedule special events. Do not let yourself get lost in this process or in the grief. Your children are experiencing a grief that threatens to destroy their lives. Help them learn the healing power of laughter, fun, and play.

  • Play games together.
  • Take a walk every day together.
  • Make favorite meals together.
  • Watch a favorite movie and eat popcorn.
  • Make s'mores in the fireplace and have a campout in the living room.
  • Go camping.
  • Go to the zoo.
  • Walk on the beach and collect shells
  • Adopt a dog or a cat.
  • Go to the pet store and buy a gerbil or a fish or a bird.
  • Read a book out loud - a long book that takes several days or evenings to complete so that you can look forward to the event.
  • Start new family rituals: hot chocolate for breakfast, pancakes for supper once a week, doing one new thing together each week.
  • Buy art materials and do art together.
  • Hang out together, talk, and laugh. 

Mothers are busy with appointments related to the investigation and prosecution of the abuse and counseling for the child who was abused. Enlist friend and family help in planning special activities with siblings so they do not feel neglected. Explain to friends and family why you are concerned and ask them to include your other children in some of their family's events. Mothers must be particularly mindful not to focus so intently on the needs of the victim that they lose sight of other children in the family. 

See other pages on site:
Immediate Effects on Siblings
Siblings: Secondary Victims
Needs of Siblings



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