Speaking with children about abuse

Speaking with children about abuse

In the wake of the allegation of sexual contact between a teacher and a student at the Torah Academy of Bergen County, the Jewish Standard asked officials at Ohel how parents should best discuss the issue with their children.

Typically, parents know what is best for their child. Therefore, it is only fitting that they take it upon themselves to speak with their children about issues such as child abuse. Of course, this should be done in an age-appropriate way and in language that makes sense.

Parents of children whose schools are dealing with sex abuse allegations need to find a safe entry point for a conversation about this with their children. For example, a parent may say something like, “Unfortunately, there was some troubling news today.” Having opened the door, begin by asking them “what they heard, their thoughts, feelings or concerns,” etc.

Speak calmly and try to reassure them. If a parent reacts emotionally or angrily in an excited or rebuking fashion, the child will not feel comfortable discussing what’s on his or her mind. Taking a strong “Tell me what is going on, tell me everything you know” approach is not going to work.

If a parent senses that the child is anxious and does not want to talk, the parent should consult with the child’s teacher, or perhaps put off continuing the conversation with the child for a day or two.

Recognize that the first person children talk to is often not a parent but rather a peer or a friend – especially in an age of social media.

Parents need to approach their child in a loving and reassuring manner, making it clear that speaking the truth and revealing any “secrets” are very good things, and that the child will not be punished for doing so. This is especially important in situations where the child may have information that he or she hasn’t shared earlier.

If at any point a parent senses the raising of “red flags” – such as withdrawal, depression, bed-wetting, social isolation, change in grades, etc. – he or she should consult a mental health professional experienced in child and sexual abuse.