by Karen T. Bartlett
During National Child Abuse Prevention Month, we asked the professional staff at the Children’s Advocacy Center of Collier County what parenting skills top their wish list to help prevent and eradicate child abuse. The list is short, surprisingly simple, and costs absolutely nothing. Here’s what they said.
1. SAY “EYE” LOVE YOU
From the first few months of life, babies seek to establish a bond (called attachment) by looking into their caregivers’ eyes. Smiling into your baby’s eyes costs nothing, yet its impact is more powerful than the most expensive toy you could buy.
The takeaway: Loving eye contact in infancy and beyond creates a cellular memory that will have lifetime benefits.
2. WATCH THE VOICE
In the TV show, The Voice, judges predict future singing stars with their backs turned to the contestants. Regardless of physical attributes or costume, the singer’s voice is the sole criterion. It’s been long known that hearing kind, gentle tones is a major contributor to a child’s sense of well-being and love – but here’s the shocker: long-term research data released in 2014 in a New England Journal of Medicine’s article entitled “Silent Victims: An Epidemic of Childhood Exposure to Domestic Violence,” shows that a child exposed to domestic violence and a climate of tension and fear has the same effect as direct abuse of the child himself, at worst causing permanent brain damage, and at least, impacting his/her mental and physical health, learning capacity and lifetime behavior.
The takeaway: get out of a domestic violence situation for the sake of your life and the life of your child. And remember that constant loud fights in a normally loving family take a terrible toll on all.
Now that we have your attention, we’re just kidding. Partly, anyway. It’s just as annoying to the parent as stressful to the child to be constantly to say “no” to keep them safe. Reduce your own stress and your child’s by baby-proofing your home. Put irreplaceable objects, medicines, knives, scissors and cleaning chemicals out of reach. Use outlet covers, magnetic cabinet locks and other inexpensive protections.
The takeaway: Hoard that important word, “No!” for imminent danger and social/ behavioral learning. Used sparingly, each No! will have far more impact.
4. SAY IT! “I’M PROUD OF YOU!”
Many abused children come to us haunted and damaged by public humiliation. Most of these kids have never heard their parents say the four exhilaration-producing words, “We’re proud of you.”
Never hearing praise or acknowledgment is a form of neglect, and neglect is a form of child abuse. Sincere praise for a child’s act of kindness or accomplishment creates a more powerful high than a bucket of candy, and the occasional well-earned compliment overheard by peers skyrockets the effect totally off the charts. This phenomenon is reflected in the adult world.
Look at all the awards ceremonies and other public honors we bestow and receive in our business and social lives!
The takeaway: Use the four magic words generously, and watch your child thrive!
5. REVISE YOUR PROJECTIONS
As any sharp entrepreneur, fundraiser, or business manager knows, one has to keep fine-tuning the plan and revise projections accordingly. Surprise! That works in parenting, too. One toddler can’t wait to try out the potty, but will reject your attempts to help them form words.
Another toddler will have no part of that potty deal, because he’s too busy picking out melodies on the keyboard. Extremely late progress could indicate a physical or neurological problem, but in most cases, each child progresses in different areas at her own speed.
The takeaway: Rule out any medical concerns with the doctor. Encourage without shaming. And most importantly, revise your projections!
6. RETHINK THE PUNISHMENT
Did your teenager break the rules (again)? Here’s a no-brainer: Take away the treasured iPad or iPhone. It’s more effective than hitting or yelling, guaranteed! “Make the punishment fit the crime” isn’t new in legal circles, and it’s great advice for parenting all ages (although we prefer the word “consequences.”) Did the four year-old clumsily knock over a glass at the table? Give her a towel and have her help mop up.
Did he have a tantrum in the theater? Take away his next movie privilege.
The takeaway: Every action, positive and negative, has consequences. That consequence should never, ever, be physical abuse.
7. LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN
In a healthy, loving home, the most important gift you can give your child is safety. Abused children are often too young, too confused or too frightened to tell you something’s wrong.
Please pay attention when a child lets you know, verbally or non-verbally, that someone or something is making them afraid or uncomfortable. Then find out exactly why.
The takeaway: If you know of or suspect child abuse, please call the Florida Abuse Hotline, 800.962.2872 or call the CAC 239.263.8383.
AND NOW FOR THE SHOCKER!
People are invariably horrified to learn that more than 4,000 cases of physical and sexual abuse are reported in Collier County every year.
Since 1986, The Children’s Advocacy Center of Collier County has been the only first-response facility to receive and assist children in crisis situations. With its professional team of physicians, counselors and advocates, and in concert with leading state and local agencies, hospitals and shelters, its Child Protection Team serves more than 2,200 children each year.
The mission of the non-profit agency is to improve the lives of these children and enhance their families’ capabilities to provide safe environments. Its coordinated, multi-agency approach to the identification, investigation, intervention, and treatment of child sexual and physical abuse includes a friendly, compassionate atmosphere designed to minimize a child’s trauma, support the healing process, and give her the best possible chance at a safe and happy future. The CAC also offers prevention, child safety and supervision programs to the community.
BECOME INVOLVED – MAKE A DIFFERENCE!
The CAC needs and welcomes volunteers, gifts of stuffed animals, new clothing and other items for its young clients, and especially appreciates financial support to continue its programs.
To learn more, visit caccollier.org. To become involved on a major level, call CEO Jackie Stephens at 239.263.8383.