Nothing has the power to steal a youngster’s childhood, not even the most adverse events. Abuse and other unpleasantries can certainly stress children out for a while, and you wouldn't want such stress to be ongoing, or it might indeed lower their happiness threshold in childhood. But isolated occurrences, those that do not encompass a child's entire life, or those that are brief in nature (even up to several years), no matter how undesirable, do not steal childhood. As for the idea of childhood “innocence,” this is a flimsy, abstract concept that is dreamed up by adults and is otherwise entirely meaningless.
This irrational belief arises because parents are prejudiced against certain traumas over others. For example, we are prone to believing that it would be horrible for our child to be molested, whereas we gloss right over the other traumas they face in their everyday lives. Yet this perspective generally isn't accurate, and seldom does it accurately reflect a child's experiences. Most molestations involve non-violent touching by an otherwise cherished and affectionate adult, that at most tend to annoy the child or confuse them (fear is rarely an issue), and at best it might even be pleasurable and enjoyable. (See our information on how knowledge alters perspective earlier in this book) When you further consider that all physiologically normal children will experience incidental sexual sensations with an adult many times over the course of their childhood (diaper changes, sitting on knees, etc.) the dread parents elicit over such an experience is mostly a result of catastrophic thoughts dreamed up in their own heads.
Compare this to a child whose parent is late to pick them up at school and fears that their mother or father has been killed in a car accident, or a child who is lost in the mall and endures 10-20 minutes to severe stress and quite intense fear. On an elemental scale measuring the child's experience, in terms of overall stress levels and the amount of fear experienced, the latter incident may be far more "traumatic" and uncomfortable from the child's perspective than the first. It is only because of our grown-up prejudices that we tend to believe one trauma should be so much worse than the other, and thus, we inflate it with added meaning and significance...which in turn creates psychological distress that brings about the very harm parents fear. (Research shows, in fact, that it is these catastrophic ideas and inflated significance which adults model to children, and not the experience itself, that is the primary source of harm for children who experience sexual abuse.) The bottom line: this idea of a “trauma-free childhood” where “innocence can be stolen” is an adult perpetuated delusion; the result of our tendency to exaggerate the significance of certain traumas while discounting others. Like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, it’s based on ideas about childhood that do not exist. So stop beating yourself up over make-believe. A negative experience is merely a negative experience, and nothing more.
As discussed in irrational belief #3, all children will experience trauma, each in their own unique way. While there certainly are degrees in severity in what the child experiences (more stress, more fear, etc.), and while we don't want a child experiencing chronic stress, fear, or other negative environments, parents make a grave mistake when they place certain negative experiences on a pedestal. Your child was going to experience trauma from the moment they were born, so this recent event, whatever it may be, does not now mean all is lost. Like potty training or starting school, it is just another obstacle to be worked through.