When a suspicion begins to form it can rapidly become pervasive and natural fear and concern can easily take hold. A conversation of this nature is likely to be difficult and so it is important that any discussion is dealt with in a careful and measured way.
It is a conversation that needs to be held in a place where a child feels both safe and comfortable. It should be held at an appropriate time and place. It is a discussion that should take place well away from any person that you suspect may be responsible for the abuse.
Where there are particular reasons for your concern then raising them in a non-confrontational way is essential. A child in these circumstances should not feel that they are being judged. If they have said or done something that is worrying you then raising it with them may be a sensible starting point. Try explaining that you are concerned about something they said and that you simply want to know more about that, focus any questions around your own concerns rather than simply referring to what they said. A child should not be made to feel that they are at fault or that they are being blamed for anything, this will help avoid a potentially defensive response intended to avoid being in trouble.
If the abuse is of a sexual or physical nature then asking if anyone has been touching them in a way that feels wrong or makes them feel uncomfortable may be appropriate. As awful as it may be to say not all forms of abuse result in pain or immediate hurt for the victim and so asking a child if they have been hurt may mean that the answers they give to such questions do not tell the complete story.
Clearly a trusting relationship with your child will help them be open and honest with you. Many abusers make efforts to instil the idea that the abuse is a secret between them and the child. Children can find it difficult to reveal secrets, especially if there is a feeling of threat underlying that. In these circumstances a strong and trusting relationship will help them understand that there are times when it is okay not to keep a secret regardless of whether they have made some kind of promise.
Try to make sure that your child knows that they can come to you and tell you if something is happening that makes them feel uncomfortable. When they do come to you be sure to give them the time that they need to tell you what is concerning them.
If your fears are realised it may be hard to contain your own emotions but avoiding an angry response where at all possible will help make sure that they do not feel that you are angry at them. For many children there is a fear that they will be in trouble or that they will be blamed for what has happened.
Children should be taught that it is okay to say no if someone touches them in a way that makes them uneasy. Equally they should know that if someone does touch them in that way then they should tell an adult that they trust as soon as possible.
Be mindful that there may be signs that a child is being abused. If they are going to feel able to speak out about it then they need to feel safe. It may not be something that they feel able to talk about straight away but building their trust will lay a foundation for them to do so in the future.
Above all if they do reach a point that they do tell you about abuse it is absolutely critical that it is followed up in an appropriate way, informing the proper authorities and making sure that the child knows that they have done the right thing in telling you.