Dear Dr. Yael:
I am sending my oldest son to a Pre-1A this year and am very anxious about inappropriate touching. I do not know if I should speak to my son about this and, if I choose to, I do not know what I should say. I want to protect my son from any kind of inappropriate situation, but I also do not want to scare him. My goal is for my son to have a warm and loving relationship with his rebbe.
How do I balance my wish to protect him with the desire to provide him with a successful school year?
An Anxious Mother
Dear Anxious Mother:
Unfortunately, inappropriate touching exists in many settings today and it would be prudent for you to speak with your son about this before he begins the school year. Do not specifically refer to his rebbe, so that your talk does not affect the student/rebbe relationship. Instead of saying “you must tell Mommy if your rebbe touches you in a private place,” say something like “everywhere that is covered by your bathing suit is private, and no one should ever touch you there.” Explain to him that while you may help him in the shower and that a doctor might have to examine him, in general no one should be touching his private places. And clarify to him that if someone, chas v’shalom, touches him in his private areas, he should immediately tell you or his father. You must then inform the school and the proper authorities.
Explain to him that that this type of behavior is never okay – even if someone promises him a present, threatens him, or tells him it is okay. And stress again that he must inform you of what happened regardless of what the other person may say to him.
Assure your son that no one will ever hurt him, you or his father, and that he should never be afraid to tell you anything because you will always listen to him and not get upset with him. Make sure that during the conversation your mood reflects calmness, as children perceive their parents’ emotional state and often act similarly. Remember that your mood during this talk will likely determine your son’s level of nervousness.
Establish strong lines of communication with your son. This will prevent future problems between the two of you. If he feels that he can talk to you without your overacting or that you will ask him too many questions, he will more likely be receptive to what you have to say. Thus, if your son tells you that he did something wrong, don’t get extremely upset. While you can certainly voice disapproval, you should first compliment him for having come to you. Then you should explain to him that his actions might not have been the most productive way to have handled things. Also, brainstorm with him about different ways to properly handle a similar situation in the future. This will make him comfortable enough to confide in you about other issues in the future.
Another great strategy to use is “cozy time.” This entails spending some quality time with your son before he goes to bed. Most kids want to steal some extra minutes before going to sleep, making this a good time to get them to talk to their mothers about their day or whatever else is on their minds. Kids love to lie down with their parents and talk to them when they should really be sleeping, and parents love to lie down with delicious-smelling, calm kids. This is generally a great way to keep those lines of communication open. And for the most part, kids will get ready for bed quicker if they know that they will have this special time with their parent(s).
Improve your son’s self-confidence so that he is less likely to be vulnerable. Confident kids are usually not targeted, unlike those with self-esteem issues. While there are exceptions to this general rule, imbuing one’s child with positive self-worth is priceless. Parents should praise their children often, and highlight their strengths – which will help them overcome their weaknesses.
Do not use praise sparingly. Be generous with it while being stingy with your criticisms. Kids do not get spoiled due to praise. But don’t forget that there needs to be appropriate consequences if they do something they should not. But even when imposing consequences you must still be positive and loving.