How do you know when you’ve crossed the line?
*From HelpGuide.org "Child Abuse and Neglect: Recognizing and Preventing Child Abuse"
- You can’t stop the anger. What starts as a swat on the backside may turn into multiple hits getting harder and harder. You may shake your child harder and harder and finally throw him or her down. You find yourself screaming louder and louder and can’t stop yourself.
- You feel emotionally disconnected from your child. You may feel so overwhelmed that you don’t want anything to do with your child. Day after day, you just want to be left alone and for your child to be quiet.
- Meeting the daily needs of your child seems impossible. While everyone struggles with balancing dressing, feeding, and getting kids to school or other activities, if you continually can’t manage to do it, it’s a sign that something might be wrong.
- Other people have expressed concern. It may be easy to bristle at other people expressing concern. However, consider carefully what they have to say. Are the words coming from someone you normally respect and trust? Denial is not an uncommon reaction.
Breaking the cycle of child abuse
If you have a history of child abuse, having your own children can trigger strong memories and feelings that you may have repressed. This may happen when a child is born, or at later ages when you remember specific abuse to you. You may be shocked and overwhelmed by your anger, and feel like you can’t control it. But you can learn new ways to manage your emotions and break your old patterns.
Remember, you are the most important person in your child’s world. It’s worth the effort to make a change, and you don’t have to go it alone. Help and support are available.
Tips for changing your reactions
- Learn what is age appropriate and what is not. Having realistic expectations of what children can handle at certain ages will help you avoid frustration and anger at normal child behavior. For example, newborns are not going to sleep through the night without a peep, and toddlers are not going to be able to sit quietly for extended periods of time.
- Develop new parenting skills. While learning to control your emotions is critical, you also need a game plan of what you are going to do instead. Start by learning appropriate discipline techniques and how to set clear boundaries for your children. Parenting classes, books, and seminars are a way to get this information. You can also turn to other parents for tips and advice.
- Take care of yourself. If you are not getting enough rest and support or you’re feeling overwhelmed, you are much more likely to succumb to anger. Sleep deprivation, common in parents of young children, adds to moodiness and irritability—exactly what you are trying to avoid.
- Get professional help. Breaking the cycle of abuse can be very difficult if the patterns are strongly entrenched. If you can’t seem to stop yourself no matter how hard you try, it’s time to get help, be it therapy, parenting classes, or other interventions. Your children will thank you for it.
- Learn how you can get your emotions under control. The first step to getting your emotions under control is realizing that they are there. If you were abused as a child, you may have an especially difficult time getting in touch with your range of emotions. You may have had to deny or repress them as a child, and now they spill out without your control. For a step by step process on how you can develop your emotional intelligence, visit EQ Central.
Helping an abused or neglected child
*From HelpGuide.org "Child Abuse and Neglect: Recognizing and Preventing Child Abuse"
What should you do if you suspect that a child has been abused? How do you approach him or her? Or what if a child comes to you? It’s normal to feel a little overwhelmed and confused in this situation. Child abuse is a difficult subject that can be hard to accept and even harder to talk about.
Just remember, you can make a tremendous difference in the life of an abused child, especially if you take steps to stop the abuse early. When talking with an abused child, the best thing you can provide is calm reassurance and unconditional support. Let your actions speak for you if you’re having trouble finding the words. Remember that talking about the abuse may be very difficult for the child. It’s your job to reassure the child and provide whatever help you can.
Tips for talking to an abused child
- Avoid denial and remain calm. A common reaction to news as unpleasant and shocking as child abuse is denial. However, if you display denial to a child, or show shock or disgust at what they are saying, the child may be afraid to continue and will shut down. As hard as it may be, remain as calm and reassuring as you can.
- Don’t interrogate. Let the child explain to you in his or her own words what happened, but don’t interrogate the child or ask leading questions. This may confuse and fluster the child and make it harder for them to continue their story.
- Reassure the child that they did nothing wrong. It takes a lot for a child to come forward about abuse. Reassure him or her that you take what is said seriously, and that it is not the child’s fault.
- Safety comes first. If you feel that your safety or the safety of the child would be threatened if you try to intervene, leave it to the professionals. You may be able to provide more support later after the initial professional intervention.
Reporting child abuse and neglect
If you suspect a child is being abused, it’s critical to get them the help he or she needs. Reporting child abuse seems so official. Many people are reluctant to get involved in other families’ lives.
Understanding some of the myths behind reporting may help put your mind at ease if you need to report child abuse
- I don’t want to interfere in someone else’s family. The effects of child abuse are lifelong, affecting future relationships, self-esteem, and sadly putting even more children at risk of abuse as the cycle continues. Help break the cycle of child abuse.
- What if I break up someone’s home? The priority in child protective services is keeping children in the home. A child abuse report does not mean a child is automatically removed from the home - unless the child is clearly in danger. Support such as parenting classes, anger management or other resources may be offered first to parents if safe for the child.
- They will know it was me who called. Reporting is anonymous. In most states, you do not have to give your name when you report child abuse. The child abuser cannot find out who made the report of child abuse.
- It won’t make a difference what I have to say. If you have a gut feeling that something is wrong, it is better to be safe than sorry. Even if you don’t see the whole picture, others may have noticed as well, and a pattern can help identify child abuse that might have otherwise slipped through the cracks.
Leaving Your Child Home Alone
*From Child Welfare Information Gateway "Leaving Your Child Home Alone"
Every parent eventually faces the decision to leave their child home alone for the first time. Whether they are just running to the store for a few minutes or working during after-school hours, parents need to be sure their children have the skills and maturity to handle the situation safely. Being trusted to stay home alone can be a positive experience for a child who is mature and well prepared. It can boost the child's confidence and promote independence and responsibility. However, children face real risks when left unsupervised. Those risks, as well as a child's ability to deal with challenges, must be considered. This factsheet provides some tips to help parents and caregivers when making this important decision.
Depending on the laws and child protective policies in your area, leaving a young child unsupervised may be considered neglect, especially if doing so places the child in danger. If you are concerned about a child who appears to be neglected or inadequately supervised, contact your local child protective services (CPS) agency. If you need help contacting your local CPS agency, call the Childhelp® National Child Abuse Hotline at 800.4.A.CHILD (800.422.4453). Find more information on their website: www.childhelp.org
What to Consider Before Leaving Your Child Home Alone
When deciding whether to leave a child home alone, you will want to consider your child's physical, mental, and emotional well-being, as well as laws and policies in your State regarding this issue. There are many resources you can refer to for guidance. (See the end of this factsheet for some of them.) These resources typically address the considerations below.
Some parents look to the law for help in deciding when it is appropriate to leave a child home alone. According to the National Child Care Information Center, only Illinois and Maryland currently have laws regarding a minimum age for leaving a child home alone.1 Even in those States other factors, such as concern for a child's well-being and the amount of time the child is left alone, are considered. States that do not have laws may still offer guidelines for parents. For information on laws and guidelines in your State, contact your local CPS agency. If you need help contacting your local CPS agency, call Childhelp® at 800.422.4453.
Age and Maturity
There is no agreed-upon age when all children are able to stay home alone safely. Because children mature at different rates, you should not base your decision on age alone.
You may want to evaluate your child's maturity and how he or she has demonstrated responsible behavior in the past. The following questions may help:
- Is your child physically and mentally able to care for him- or herself?
- Does your child obey rules and make good decisions?
- Does your child feel comfortable or fearful about being home alone?
When and how a child is left home alone can make a difference to his or her safety and success. You may want to consider the following questions:
- How long will your child be left home alone at one time? Will it be during the day, evening, or night? Will the child need to fix a meal?
- How often will the child be expected to care for him- or herself?
- How many children are being left home alone? Children who seem ready to stay home alone may not necessarily be ready to care for younger siblings.
- Is your home safe and free of hazards?
- How safe is your neighborhood?
In addition to age and maturity, your child will need to master some specific skills before being able to stay home alone safely. In particular, your child needs to know what to do and whom to contact in an emergency situation. Knowledge of basic first aid is also useful. You may want to consider enrolling your child in a safety course such as one offered by the Red Cross.2 The following questions may also help:
- Does your family have a safety plan for emergencies? Can your child follow this plan?
- Does your child know his or her full name, address, and phone number?
- Does your child know where you are and how to contact you at all times?
- Does your child know the full names and contact information of other trusted adults, in case of emergency?
Tips for Parents
Once you have determined that your child is ready to stay home alone, the following suggestions may help you to prepare your child and to feel more comfortable about leaving him or her home alone:
- Have a trial period. Leave the child home alone for a short time while staying close to home. This is a good way to see how he or she will manage.
- Role play. Act out possible situations to help your child learn what to do.
- Establish rules. Make sure your child knows what is (and is not) allowed when you are not home. Some experts suggest making a list of chores or other tasks to keep children busy while you are gone.
- Check in. Call your child while you are away to see how it's going, or have a trusted neighbor or friend check in.
- Talk about it. Encourage your child to share his or her feelings with you about staying home alone.
- Don't overdo it. Even a mature, responsible child shouldn't be home alone too much. Consider other options, such as programs offered by schools, community centers, youth organizations, or churches, to help keep your child busy and involved.