Preparing Your Child to Testify

Remember that you will have a better case against an offender if your child is a reliable witness - that is, tells the truth in a clear, thorough, and comprehensible manner. If the child victim cannot testify, and there is no other evidence available, defense attorneys know that the case usually cannot be proved. Although some people believe that children under the age of seven are not competent to testify in court, in fact a child as young as three or four is usually as reliable a witness as an adult. Following is a list of suggestions that will help you prepare your child to testify:

  1. Do not go over the child's testimony before the courtroom appearance. The defense attorney may ask the child, "Did someone tell you to say that?" Then, you may be thought to have coached the child and influenced the testimony. Try not to discuss the facts of the case with or in front of your child. If the attorney for the defense seeks to question your child before the trial, you should consult with the prosecutor, the child's guardian ad litem, a victim/witness advocate, or your own attorney.
  2. Your child's anxiety about testifying in court will be lessened if he or she knows what to expect from the courtroom process. The prosecutor, victim/witness advocate, or a counselor will be familiar with local practices and should provide you with accurate information.
  3. Your child can be taught strategies to reduce anxiety before or while testifying. These can include relaxation exercises, mentally rehearsing the testimony, or simply playing with a favorite toy. Again, a therapist or victim/witness advocate can help with ideas.
  4. If your child is a victim of sexual abuse or exploitation, he or she may be especially afraid or embarrassed about telling the story in court. Reassure your child that disclosing the victimization was the right action to take.
  5. Remind the child that you know that he or she is telling the truth and, no matter what the defense attorney or the defendant says, you believe the child. Your feeling toward the child will not change.
  6. Advise your child that the most important thing to do in court is to tell the truth.
  7. Tell your child that if he or she is confused or does not know the answer, feel free to say so. No one expects the child to remember all the details or to know all the answers.