Dear Dr. Respler,
As a professor of child development in a graduate program and a loyal reader of your column, I want to thank you for the incredibly important public service you have provided over the years. I have often used your excellent insights and well-thought out answers in my classes.
I would, however, like to comment on a point you made to “A Guilty Mother” in the October 7 issue. While most of the suggestions were on point, I do take exception to item number three in which Dr. Susan Schulman advises that parents tell a child to confront the abuser and “tell him that your parents are very strong and you know that he’s just trying to scare you.” I fear that some abusers might panic and do physical harm to the child in order to prevent him or her from reporting what has transpired. Perhaps a better approach might be for the child to appear cooperative and attempt to get away in whatever manner he or she can.
It is very sad that there are predators and pedophiles in our midst that would do harm to our beloved children.
Wishing you hatzlocha,
A devoted reader
Dear Devoted Reader:
Thank you for your letter and those very kind words. Thank you also for the opportunity to clarify some points of confusion in regards to that specific column.
Dr. Susan Schulman advises parents to tell their children that anything that is covered by a bathing suit is off limits and cannot be touched by anyone. Everything else in that column was written by myself and Dr. Orit Respler Herman.
You are correct that it’s more prudent to teach our children to run away and let a trusted adult know what happened as soon as possible! While our suggestion was a way of helping a child appear strong, you are correct in saying that some abusers can be violent and this strategy can cause a child to be harmed.
Many abusers seek our children who seem vulnerable; thus it is important that we build up our children’s self-esteem and confidence. When the abuser is a stranger, that confidence can keep the child safe. Unfortunately, when the abuser is a family member, that confidence has no effect.
In addition, I never meant to suggest that victims could choose to be victimized. Anyone can be victimized and no child ever chooses to be in that position. Our hope has to be that a child who has a great amount of self-esteem or confidence will, at the very least, feel comfortable reporting an abusive situation as quickly as possible. It is also imperative that you tell your children that no one can hurt you and they should never be afraid to tell you anything that happened to them. Most importantly, we need to teach our children that inappropriate touch is never okay.
Along these lines, our reactions are very important. We must be sure to remain calm and help them process what happened in an appropriate manner. This is especially true when children are telling us that they got in trouble at school or that they did something wrong. If we yell or overreact to the information they have shared, they will stop filling us in.
This does not mean that you should condone bad behavior; rather, it means you should lovingly explain why what happened was wrong (not that they were bad, but their actions were incorrect) and help them figure out how to act differently in the future. If his or her actions warrant it, a fair consequence can be given, but an incentive for good behavior in the future and helping your child find a better way to handle the situation will likely be more effective.
Having a strong and positive relationship with your children is like an insurance policy. It will protect them from many types of predators and from knowingly entering into harmful relationships. There are, unfortunately, many harmful people who know how to be chameleons. They know how to pretend to be whatever you are looking for during the dating process and in the early stage of friendships. That makes them hard to avoid.
Thank you again for your letter and for helping to clarify our response. May we be zoche to a time in which abuse no longer exists in any form. Hatzlocha!