May 25, 2024
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How to Talk About Abuse With Kids

Chaim Walder’s suicide is a shocking development in an already painful case. Since his books have been ubiquitous in the homes of frum families, many of our children will likely hear about the situation, if they have not already. As parents, this news brings into focus our need to do all we can to protect our children from the dangers of abuse and suicide, including communicating that they can always turn to us when they need help.

Here are some ways in which we can use this terrible situation to increase the safety of our children. Start by asking what he or she knows and how they felt when they found out. These are heavy topics, but if you model that you’re OK talking about them even though it’s a little weird, they will likely join you there.

 

Talking About Suicide

Despite the common misconception, there is no evidence that talking appropriately about suicide or asking about suicidal thoughts will somehow plant those thoughts in a child’s mind. However, highly publicized suicides like this one are associated with increased suicidal thoughts and behavior, especially in children and adolescents. That’s why this is a key opportunity to start a conversation about it with our children. They may have nothing to say, and the older they are the more likely they are to push their parents away when trying to start even the most mundane conversations. However, bringing it up shows your children that you can handle talking about this matter and are available to them about it in the future.

Additional points for talking about suicide:

Let them know that thinking about suicide is not something to be embarrassed about and that you’d always want them to come to you for help rather than keep it to themselves.

Stress that there is nothing they can do that will make you turn them away, no matter how badly they messed up or how ashamed they may feel.

 

Talking About Reporting Abuse

Some of the reactions that we or our children may hear to this news might include things like: “This is why we shouldn’t throw around accusations like that,” or “He did such great things, it’s such a shame what happened to him.” Those sentiments send our children a dangerous message. That is because one of the ways in which abusers keep their victims from getting help is by saying that if they get in trouble it will be the child’s (or adult victim’s) fault. Many specifically threaten to kill themselves if the victim tells on them. It is important that we use this opportunity to reinforce the message to our children that they can always come to us if someone is making them feel uncomfortable or unsafe, or if another adult is asking them to keep secrets from us, no matter who it is.

Additional points for talking about reporting abuse:

Tell your children explicitly that you will always believe them, no matter how good, important or well respected the person or his family is.

Tell them that the punishment or suicide of an alleged abuser is not the fault of the victims for coming forward.

 

Acknowledging Nuance

It’s always shocking to learn that someone who seemed so good has done things that were so terrible. For many children who were current Kids Speak readers and adults who grew up with the series that feeling has come together with a deep sense of loss that has left some feeling confused or guilty.  Not only did we let the author and his lessons into our hearts, but we also took things from them that enriched our lives in ways that other books may not have. It’s no wonder that a person would feel the need to grieve when they give them up. We need to know and communicate that those feelings are normal and ok.

We also need to allow ourselves, more broadly, to acknowledge the good that Walder did and the respect that he earned within the community. This is not easy — it requires us to hold in our minds wildly disparate realities in a way that would be hard even in a less painful situation. But we want our kids to be able to keep up their protective boundaries around anyone who would violate them and to be believed when they report anyone who does. We arm them, then, with the ability to see that a small number of people who actually have good qualities also do horrific things.

 

Speaking With Sensitivity

Finally, we need to be mindful of the way we speak about this situation. In all likelihood, someone that we interact with regularly has had abuse or suicide affect them or someone in their family, and one insensitive comment could hurt them more than we will ever know.

May Hashem protect us and our children from all manners of pain and suffering and may we soon rejoice together in the rebuilding of Yerushalayim.


Dr. Bin Goldman is a clinical psychologist practicing in Teaneck, Clifton, and the Upper West Side and Director of Psychology and Guidance at the Rosenbaum Yeshiva of North Jersey. He speaks and writes about mental health, spirituality, parenting, the Jewish community, and Torah. He can be reached at [email protected]. 

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