Parenting is one of the hardest jobs in the world, and there is little external reward for doing it well. That said, it is important not to minimize the importance of doing it well so that your children can become healthy, happy, and successful in all areas of their lives. You may wonder, how do you prevent child abuse in your home? This blog post will cover some child abuse prevention tips gleaned from local child advocacy groups (AFFIRM AV and Los Angeles Community Child Abuse Councils) and from my own experience as a psychotherapist.
According to the LA Community Child Abuse Councils, there are 5 protective factors that help reduce the possibility of child abuse and neglect. They are parental resilience, social connections, concrete support, knowledge about parenting and child development, and fostering social and emotional development in your children. If you don’t know very much about children’s developmental stages and what behaviors to expect at those stages, you’re not alone.
However, it is important to learn, and it is not difficult to find resources to teach you that information. There are workshops and plenty of information online that can help you learn what to expect of you children, as well as how to discipline with love, patience, and logic. You don’t have to repeat what your family did. As Maya Angelou famously said, “do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, you do better.”
Intentional parenting includes working on yourself first.
Know and work through your own negative experiences from the past, so you don’t pass them on. You may have had emotional or physical abuse from your parents or caregivers. As a result, you may have decided that you would never do that to your children. Nonetheless, you might find yourself saying to your children what was said to you, despite your best conscious efforts. This may be mystifying to you, since you have such good intentions of being a better parent than yours were.
Working through your own trauma and the hidden messages that impact your life is a good first step to being a better parent. I know, it can be painful and scary sometimes to look at things that you might have wanted to avoid or push to the side. Who wants to go back and look at all that? Luckily, EMDR therapy and hypnosis can be gentle ways of resolving trauma from the past without having to retell your story ad nauseum.
Handling your feelings maturely and speaking calmly to your children are very important. You can model and teach respect for other people’s rights, feelings, bodies and property. You can also learn how to balance structure and rules with fun and leisure. Setting reasonable limits on behavior, access to electronic devices, and social activity is just as important as showing them love through more popular ways like hugs and praise.
If you’re worried about appearing weak to your children, the opposite is true.
Modeling the ability to have negative feelings and cope with them successfully strengthens you as a parent and helps your children see that it’s okay to get help and admit when they are overwhelmed. You have many opportunities to be a good example for your children, and this is 1 of the most important ones. I see many clients who started to have emotional problems as children, but their parents were in denial and thought they would grow out of whatever problems they had. Therefore, the negative behaviors and coping just got stronger as the child aged into adulthood. As you can see, this doesn’t help you or them.
Make time to cherish your children to prevent child abuse.
Here are some ideas for pleasant activities with your kids:
· Play and read together.
· Listen to them; let them talk openly about what’s on their mind.
· Talk to them about good and bad touches, and that it’s okay to say no and tell you if something questionable is going on.
· Look for positive behaviors and praise them when you see them being good. Do this often and encourage them to notice when they’re being good as well.
· Celebrate their developing abilities and accomplishments, but also let them know that when they make mistakes, they are loved and cherished nonetheless.
· Let them know you love them all the time, regardless of their behavior.
· Turn on some music and dance together.
· Teach them to cook meals and give them age-appropriate tasks to help make a healthy meal together.
· Go for a family walk or bike ride.
· Hug your child for no reason, but also accept if they don’t want to be touched. You can teach them consent at an early age and help them prevent being touched by strangers if they don’t want to be touched.
· Ask them about their favorite activities, books, movies, video games, etc.
· Follow through on your promises. If you said you were going to the park on Sunday, make sure that you follow through. This builds trust and models follow through and accountability to your child.
· Take your family to the park for picnics or playing sports.
· Help your child send a note or picture to someone who has been kind to them.
· Talk to your children about gratitude and build a practice of talking about this regularly in your family. Be a good role model for appreciation of the good things in your life.
· Babysit for a parent who needs a break.
· Sing a song with your children.
· Participate in activities they enjoy with them, like playing games, coloring pictures, watching movies, etc.
· Winning at games is not everything. Model good sportsmanship when you play games together, and don’t overemphasize winners and losers.
When you lose your cool, take a step back.
Let’s face it, there may be times when you have reached the end of your rope and you don’t have any more patience for your child’s behavior. You can use long, deep breaths and remember that you are the grown-up. You are expected to act maturely, even when the child isn’t. It can also distract and divert your child’s attention to something else so you can take some quiet moments for yourself. Some parents/cold water on their face when they are getting heated. You can also make sure that your child is safe and then take some time for yourself.
When you talk to your child, make it clear that you’re upset with what they did, not who they are. Also, own your part of the conflict, which helps them see you as human and a responsible person.
There is so much more that could be said about child abuse prevention, but these are some quick tips to implement if you find yourself getting triggered by your children’s behavior. I encourage you to get outside support so that you can be the best person for yourself and for your children, that you can be. This could be therapy, parenting support groups, parenting education, more friendships with other parents, etc.