To many of us, he embodied fatherhood in the persona of Cliff Huxtable. To others, he hawked Jell-O Pudding Pops. And to others, he taught us how to use Picture Pages. In some form or fashion, Bill Cosby impacted the lives of countless families over the past five decades with laughter and joy. That’s what makes the accusations of sexual assault against him so bewildering.

With Cosby’s name swirling in the headlines and on the front pages, there’s no doubt that our children are hearing bits and pieces of the salacious story and wondering the story behind the accusations against Cosby, an American comedy icon. It can be a real trick for parents to address their child’s questions about Cosby, but it also provides a perfect teaching moment and a platform to talk about serious issues that might someday confront many of our kids.

Be Honest

If your children are old enough to understand the allegations about Cosby, be upfront and honest with them. Tell them what he is accused of and, if true, how despicable it is. If you try to sugarcoat the details, they will probably learn the truth elsewhere. That will not only undercut your intention, but it could also diminish your standing in their eyes. After all, if they cannot trust you to give them the truth about Bill Cosby, they might wonder what else you’re holding back from them?

Answer Their Questions

Doubtless, your children will have many questions. They might wonder how someone with such standing could possibly do such a thing. They might want to know the mechanics of what his accusers are claiming. They might want to know, if the allegations are true, why he’s not in jail. No matter the question, try to be prepared with an honest, thoughtful answer. That’s always the best response. You might not be able to answer some of their questions and it might lead you and your child to read an online article from a reputable source about the issue, furthering the conversation.

This topic will bring up a host of issues that you might not be ready to discuss with your child. Topics like drug use, date rape, and crimes against women are a few of the items that your child might be wondering about in light of the Cosby story. If your kids are mature enough to handle it, the accusations might provide an opening into some of these touchy, yet important topics. Again, the most important thing is to be honest and give your children the time to express their questions and feelings.

Use This as a Teachable Lesson

Think of the learning opportunity this could provide. Children are inundated with images, stories and videos of every behavior imaginable. The Cosby story at least offers a chance to delve into some of those topics in a thoughtful, reasoned, and learned way. It could enable you to express to your child the dangers that some people and situations present.

Another element your children might wonder about is why these accusations are emerging now, years after the incident. That fact might spur a conversation with your child about the importance of speaking up in the moment should something harmful happen to them. We live in an age of people sharing and over sharing, but many times children or victims of crime stay silent and this might be a chance to explain why your child should feel safe and protected coming to you, a trusted friend, or the police, if necessary.

It’s also about squaring perception with reality. It can be challenging for children – and some adults – to learn that the people we idolize for their celebrity or athletic or political prowess might be capable of horrible things. It can begin to erode our trust in people and society. Try to explain to your children that the people they see on television or in the movies or at the head of our country or community are fallible, just like the rest of us.

The last part of this discussion is the most difficult. Should you allow your children to watch The Cosby Show or listen to an early Cosby standup routine. I grew up listening to those albums when I discovered them in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They are comic gold and touch on many funny moments that resonate today in regards to parenting and childhood. It saddens me that they have been tainted. Ultimately, I think, it boils down to this: Are you able to separate Cosby, the entertainer, from Cosby, the man? It would certainly be challenging to take parental advice from one of Cosby’s books knowing the disturbing and lurid accusations against him.

I would want to help my children – again, if they are old enough – to make their own choice about whether to listen to this man who, for years, portrayed himself as a paragon of parenting yet now is labeled as a possible serial predator of women. But most of all, I would want my children to feel secure coming to me with questions or concerns about the story or any of the ripples it creates in their lives.