As I rushed into the bathroom and locked the door, I stood against the wall with my heart pounding, my cheeks flushed and wet with tears, and feelings of frustration and anger coursing through my veins.
Here I am -- a trained social worker and mental health clinician -- and I have just locked myself away from my two screaming, out-of-control pre-schoolers because I know I need to calm down and collect myself before I re-emerge as a competent parent. I love my children, I worship my children, and yet we all have our limits – especially when we are exhausted and overwhelmed.
Parenting is a joyful, rewarding blessing – and yet at times it also feels like an endless challenge, riddled with futility and frustration. The art of disciplining children is a challenge for all parents and caregivers; for those who have hit their breaking point, or who have a particularly “strong-willed child”, the task can seem insurmountable.
And, for a parent who drinks heavily, or struggles with anger or self-control, the risk of abuse rises dramatically. Every year, approximately 800,000 cases of child abuse are confirmed nationally, with about 11,000 of those in our own state. With the economic challenges of the last few years, many believe that child abuse is reaching epidemic proportion.
April is national Child Abuse Prevention Month – and it is fitting for the month of blooming flowers and trees, of growth and rebirth, should also remind us of our role in tending to the growth of the next generation.
Child abuse comes in many forms: physical abuse (slapping, punching, hitting), emotional abuse (name calling, belittling), sexual abuse (touching, exposure, assault), or neglect of basic needs (withholding medical care or love/affection).
Child abuse also occurs at every socioeconomic level, across all ethnic and cultural lines, within all religions, and at all levels of parental education. So, while many us are thinking about gardening or our summer vacation plans, I ask you to take a moment to think about your role in tending to the children in your lives.
What can you do to be a part of the solution?
- Educate yourself. Learn the signs and symptoms that abused children exhibit. Check out the following websites (listed below) to increase your knowledge about child abuse. For instance, the American Humane Association in Englewood, CO has a fabulous program called the “Front Porch Project,” a workshop that teaches participants how to effectively intervene to truly help families and children in their communities.
- Reach Out to a New or Struggling Parent. It truly takes a village to raise a child and so often in our individualistic society we don’t step in to help. Reach out to a new parent you know (or an experienced and overwhelmed parent!) to offer support, encouragement and connection. If you are a parent, be honest about the struggles of parenting and what helps manage the tough times. Encourage others, and yourself, to connect with parenting resources such as “Parenting the Strong-Willed Child” or “Love and Logic” books or workshops. Both workshops are currently offered through at Arapahoe/Douglas Mental Health Network (see below).
- If you suspect abuse, report it. Most folks are fearful of calling to report child abuse or neglect, worrying that perhaps they are mistaken, that the abuser will seek retaliation, or that the abuse will escalate if parents are confronted. This is a myth and harmful to all involved. Imagine that you are vulnerable child who is being abused; what would it feel like to realize that none of the adults around you was willing to step in and intervene? Child Protective Service workers are not out to remove children from homes. They are there to speak up for the rights of children, to educate parents and caregivers, and to be part of the solution to stop child abuse.
- Make a donation – of your time or your money. Be a part of the solution in whatever way you can. Become involved with a children’s advocacy organization, help with a fundraiser, volunteer to be a mentor to a teen mother or father, or make a decision to be a foster parent. If you are short on time or money, give generously whatever you can afford to give.
- Connect with a child. Pay close attention to the children in your life, both within your family, within your neighborhood, and in your community. Reach out to talk with a child who seems shy, afraid, or perhaps troubled. One of the primary resiliency factors that helps children who are abused is whether or not there was even one, single adult who showed that boy or girl love, kindness, and compassion.
The following links are for organizations and resources right here in Colorado that provide valuable services and resources to help prevent and treat child abuse and strengthen families and communities.
Remember, it only takes one person to make a difference in the life of a child. And it definitely takes a village to raise children!
The Kempe Center- http://www.kempe.org/
Tennyson Center for Children- http://www.childabuse.org/
American Humane Association- http://www.americanhumane.org/
Parenting Safe Children- http://www.parentingsafechildren.com/
Arapahoe/Douglas Mental Health Network- http://www.admhn.org/Education/Classes.aspx