Teaching your children to recognise abuse

islamic parenting Nov 09, 2022

A friend and I were speaking and she noticed that before I left my boy with her, I made sure my name was the first dial on his phone, that he had enough credit to ring me, that the tracking was running on his phone as a precaution and that he knew which postcode he was staying at and our address off by heart.


She looked at me knowingly. We’ve known each other for the duration of two children attending school in the same years. She smiled at me with understanding and no judgement. ‘I read somewhere, that a mum who protects too much, was never protected enough when she was growing up.’


This ran so true for me that I went home and dug out the newspaper clipping that had brought me closure 25 years after my brush with sexual abuse. It was an article that highlighted how a man in our tight knit community had been arrested for over a dozen counts of sexual abuse and grooming. When I was ten, I had come forward about it and not one member of my family was equipped to deal with the information I had given them. It wasn’t knowledge or tools. It was the fact that he was a neighbour and a good friend of the family.


After that, I did spiral out of control and became socially anxious, had an eating disorder and disappeared from all social activities. I then married an incredibly hostile person. 


I could not engage in healthy relationships nor maintain them until I healed.


As someone who lived with toxic abuse for a long time, I became painfully aware of traits I adopted to survive. One of the things I do not want is for my own children to have to recover from it. It’s every parent’s nightmare to find out that your child went through something that could have been prevented.


With the work I do at my wellbeing practise, I now have over sixty case studies of abuse – emotional and sexual - in children that later manifests as depression, eating disorders, unhealthy relationships and narcissistic personality disorders in adults.


Here are the main forms of abuse. In all cases of abuse, there is no discrimination of whether it is against man, woman or child. But for the sake of helping children, this piece will be about children.


Sexual Abuse:

DEFINITION: A sexual behaviour committed against the victim, without their consent. In children, it means to exploit them for the culprits own sexual power/gain. If a child is too young to understand what is happening, this is still abuse. Sexual abuse can also happen online.



Online sexual abuse – your child may be spending more and more time on certain apps on their gadgets. They will become increasingly angry or agitated, and be very secretive. These are the more obvious signs. They may come across as anxious and afraid to be alone. Pay heed if there is a particular person that sets them on edge or certain times when they show a change in their behaviour. Nightmares and bed wetting and a change in eating habits are also indicative that something untoward is happening. 

Sexual abuse in person/physical: Bruises, bleeding and pain in genital/anal area, sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy are the very obvious signs. Along with anxiety, eating disorders, fear of certain places and people and a sudden unwillingness in being alone especially with a person should be your cue that something isn’t right. The effects of sexual abuse can be life long in some cases which is why it’s important to notice and put a stop to it straight away. These are some of the more severe effects:

  • anxiety and depression
  • post traumatic stress
  • lack of resilience
  • self-harm
  • suicidal thoughts & actions
  • pregnancy
  • constantly feeling dirty, shameful and guilty
  • drug/alcohol problems
  • relationship problems with friends, family and partners.



As someone who was abused in the 1990’s at the tender age of six and not recognising it, I introduced my own children to a ‘my body’ workshop. I talked them through acceptable forms of consensual touching: e.g hugs, holding hands, high fives. Non acceptable forms of touching and things we shouldn’t give consent for was touching in the breasts, genitals and anal area, kissing, bum slapping, rubbing on them or other people. Seeing these things were explained too. That it was forbidden and we shouldn’t engage in it. If this was shown to them or they accidently stumbled upon it, they were to tell me or a trusted grown up. My children at the time were 4, 6 and 9 years. I have since given them an age appropriate update on this twice a year. Their ages are now 8, 10 and 13 and they are aware that sexual abuse can come from anyone at any time. They know who to speak to, call and what to do. They know it can come from someone they know. We also check the things they’re exposed to on media and it is very apparent that current TV oversexualises children and this then normalises unnatural relationships; eg: older men with early teen children because of the sexual maturity of said teen. This isn’t normal and the words ‘love is love’ are dangerous in this context. So a monthly reminder is set with my children so they can recognise, speak up about this to me. When your child asks, create a safe space by speaking to them and letting them process the right from the wrong.


Emotional Abuse:

DEFINITION: A pattern of behaviour that impairs a child's sense of wellbeing and emotional development. Very common in cases of parental alienation, where in matters concerning children, it is the constant mistreatment of a child emotionally. This includes:

  • shouting at them
  • manipulating them
  • degrading them
  • exposing them to things beyond their years
  • not recognising their own individuality and persistently controlling them
  • never showing or engaging emotionally with a child, known as emotional neglect.
  • never allowing them to have friends or relationships with the other parent and their side; eg an alienating mum will alienate her child from the paternal family side.
  • failing to promote a child’s social development
  • blaming and scapegoating
  • making the child the subject of poor jokes and using sarcasm to communicate with the child.
  • constantly ignoring them


Signs of emotional abuse in children:

  • Have few or no friends
  • Struggles controlling emotions; easily has outbursts
  • Uses language inappropriate for their age
  • Extreme outbursts
  • Makes things bigger; eg a teacher exerting normal order in a class would become bigger for a child who is manipulated; you can expect false allegations.
  • Lacks social skills
  • Acts in a way that you wouldn’t expect them to at that age.
  • Nightmares and constantly on guard.



Sadly, emotional abuse starts in the home normally. Whether it’s divorced parents or parents who are neglectful of how they are hurting their own children, the only prevention is to work with mediation between parent and child and also report the parent/s to an authority. Even then, there are many cases that amount to little or no action because emotional abuse is hard to report especially as this kind of abuse is normalised. However, if you are a parent who is witnessing this or your child has come to you with concerns of verbally aggressive behaviour from your partner, ex partner or a family member, please take the time out to speak with your child and hold the adult to account by reporting this behaviour (every country has their own procedure), especially if swearing and humiliation are involved. Another more hopeful option is to work with helping the parents overcome their own trauma or mental health issues but this is dependent on the degree to which they want the help. 


Physical Abuse:

DEFINITION: in respect of a child, it is when someone, normally older eg a parent or sibling, physically harms a child on purpose. It includes:

  • slapping/hitting with hands
  • punching
  • kicking
  • throwing
  • poisoning
  • burning
  • biting
  • scratching
  • breaking bones
  • drowning and other life threatening situations; shoving down the stairs, pushing etc.
  • causing the child to become unwell.


PREVENTION: Sadly, the desi mentality normalises physical abuse. However, if a child shows these signs, you can contact the police straight away. Do not confront the abuser. Once a child confides in you or you have witnessed the abuse, go to the authorities immediately . Let the child know they’ve done nothing wrong, reassure them they’ve done the right thing and let them know the steps you’ll be taking so they know they’re being cared for. A child who is abused physically, sexually and emotionally will confide in you if they find you a safe grown-up. But don’t wait for them to confide. Look for the signs and report them according to the local authority guidelines. 


As parents, we are prone to angry outbursts but it is also our responsibility not to pass that onto our children and to heal from what hurts us. If you think you could benefit from therapy, reach out to an Aafiyah Practitioner, or another healing modality, whatever suits you, but take the time to heal. You owe it to your children not to pass that trauma on. It is no secret that even within the Muslim community, there are children being taken away from their homes due to all forms of abuse and neglect. A word of advice to those who alienate their children from their divorced partners; the courts are now recognising this as emotional abuse and your child will go to foster care and then eventually handed over to the non-resident parent. It is better to work together to raise a healthy child then break an already fragile child with manipulation.


I pray that we are guided to raise our amaanah in safe homes, with the example set so beautifully by our Prophet (PBUH) and may we be humble enough to seek forgiveness from Allah swt and our children should we error, with or without intent of harm. May we also seek to protect children who come into our care, whether friends, relatives or stepchildren. Ameen.


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