Books have the power to transport us, to transform us, to create a new reality for us to exist in. A good author is almost God-like in that sense, creating new worlds, revealing the soul of their characters, pulling us in.
“Kid’s Speak” was a book that did exactly that. As a young teacher, Chaim Walder wrote stories about his students’ struggles, which grew into a book, and then a revolutionary series. These books gave Orthodox Jewish children worldwide a voice. They taught the children to talk about their emotions, to know that they are resilient and brave and vulnerable, and to feel empowered to problem-solve and make a difference.
Those children are now adults, raising their own children on Chaim Walder’s books. Which is why there is a feeling that the world shattered when, on November 12, 2021, sexual abuse allegations were brought against him.
These allegations are shattering not only because of who they are against — a trusted, beloved educator and leader in the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox world, but also because a case of this magnitude, and from someone who is so much “ours” raises heartbreaking questions.
Questions such as: Can anyone be trusted? Can I keep my kids safe? How? How should we relate to role models? Should we tell our kids? What, and how? Will it traumatize our kids? Should we read his books? And more.
As a sexuality educator, and someone who has been through the experience of discovering that her role models were also perpetrators of abuse, I understand what they are going through.
Over the past few days, I’ve seen a range of reactions, and a lot of unanswered questions. And while I can’t answer all of them, I set out to help where I could: by providing parents with some basic tools for talking to their children about sexual abuse. Research shows that this is one of the more effective ways of preventing abuse, and for catching it early, and to be able to minimize damage once it has happened. But most parents do not have effective and consistent conversations with their kids about sexual abuse, and some of the most common reasons for that are that they just don’t know what to say.
I authored a booklet that provides exactly that — practical guidelines, sample conversations, and answers to commonly asked questions. I offer an excerpt below and a link to download the free, 21-page guide is provided at the bottom of this post.
It is my fervent wish and prayer that this guide will equip parents to talk to their kids about this fraught topic. Statistically, around 1 in 5 children have been abused, Chaim Walder aside. If this booklet helps prevent even one more case of abuse, dayenu – it will have been enough.
Talk to your kids. It can save their lives.
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- This shouldn’t be a one-time lecture or conversation. It’s best when given in small bits, throughout the years, and repeated and added to with time and as circumstances arise.
- Our kids sense our energy and feed into it. If we are super anxious, scared, nervous, etc., that will spill over into their experience of the conversation. Practicing ahead of time — in the mirror, with your spouse, or a friend — will make it easier to convey confidence and caring to your child.
- Share details that will help your kids recognize signs of grooming and abuse. Refrain from sharing details that are not empowering, and will only add fear or anxiety.
- Starting these conversations at a young age is best. Teaching your babies the names of their private parts is a great first step.
- Check in with them during and after the conversation: how do they feel, do they have any questions?
Disclaimer: These examples are not meant to be copied word for word with your own kids. Rather, they are meant to be read by parents, thought over, and then used as a springboard or inspiration for your own conversations with your own children.
The conversations you have will also be influenced by your child’s age, previous conversations you’ve had on the topic, the atmosphere of your home, your relationship, and the general language you use at home.
Sweetie, remember how we talk about how you are in charge of your body, and if someone touches you in a way that doesn’t feel good or right, you can tell them to stop, or come and tell me?
I want you to know that even if it happened, you can come tell me afterwards. And even if it was someone you love, like Saba, or a friend.
There’s something else I want to add, honey.
Sometimes, people touch us in a way that feels uncomfortable to us, and we tell them, or ask them to stop, and then continue playing or touching them.
But there are some kinds of touch, that even when someone stops, you need to come tell me.
If anyone ever asks to see or touch your private parts, or wants to show you theirs, or asks you to touch theirs, even if it feels good, I want you to come tell me.
Our private parts — penis, testicles, eivar brit, vulva, vagina — are private. Sometimes Ima or Abba (Mom or Dad, tailor to your own family, of course) need to see or touch them, to help you take care of them, and sometimes a doctor might need to check them, but only when Ima or Abba are with you.
If anyone else asks you questions about them, asks to see them or touch them, or shows you or has you touch theirs, that isn’t safe, and I want you to come tell me right away.
You can say, “Ima, someone did something to my private parts,” and I will always listen and believe you.
If it’s easier, we can have a code word. Let’s say: Slipper. And you can tell me, “I need to talk to you about slipper,” or “Slipper happened,” and I’ll know that you want to talk to me about something important.
Here’s the link to the free download of the booklet, When Kids Don’t Speak: How to Talk to Your Kids about Sexual Abuse.