It is 3 a.m. and you’ve had only 2 hours of sleep. You have a meeting with your boss at 8 a.m. and really need some rest. You’ve rocked, walked, swaddled, sang, and patted for the past 90 minutes and if you stand up for another second you will fall down. You’re worried that the crying will wake your 2 year old and then you’ll have two crying children to try to get to sleep. Why won’t this baby stop crying? All you want is a couple hours of sleep. If he would just pay attention to you he would see that you’re doing everything you can and just can’t do it anymore. You need to get his attention and to shake him into noticing.
And there it is. The moment that defines you as a parent. There are two primary differences between parents who abuse their children and parents who don’t: stress-management and self-control. Many parents have been there with the fatigue and frustration. But not all parents abuse their children.
How can we prevent child abuse? What can you do when you’re at your wits end? Develop a plan. Go through a checklist of reasons why babies cry. Is the baby crying because she’s
Next, go through a checklist of what calms your baby. Is it music, a bath, rocking, being left alone, a car ride? Remember, just because it worked before doesn’t always mean it will work again. Once you’ve determined this is just healthy, normal baby crying (up to 6 hours a day at 6 weeks of age) put your baby in a safe place (i.e. crib) and:
- call a friend
- listen to music
- scream into a pillow
- do yoga
- take a warm bath
- go outside and take a walk around the house
- do some deep breathing exercises
- have a cup of tea
- ask a neighbor to come help
- say a prayer, meditate, chant, repeat a mantra
- anything that calms you
When you’re feeling more in control, go back to your baby and try again. Babies don’t die from crying, but they can die from abuse.
Now that your home is safe, what can be done to prevent child abuse in our community? Beginning prenatally, parent education and support programs about what a new parent can expect and in-home support provided shortly after delivery can increase parental confidence and support parent-child bonding. On-going parent education and family support activities to prevent child abuse can be very effective.
Realistically speaking, we know we won’t reach EVERY parent with these programs. We need community-wide efforts to support parents. Think about your own role in child abuse prevention. Do you support your fellow parents? When the child in front of you has a melt-down in the checkout aisle of the grocery store, do you glare at them, comment about ‘some people’s children’, or tap your foot impatiently? Or are you supportive and empathetic of the parent? Do you say, “Shopping can be long and boring for a 3 year old. Can I help you unload your cart?” When another toddler playing in the sandbox hits your child, do you make comments like, “He’s not a very nice little boy.” Or, “Apparently her mommy never taught her not to hit.” Or, my personal least-favorite, “Hit them back.” Or do you say to the parent, “It’s so frustrating when my child acts out (hits others, takes toys, kicks) in public. I have to look at it as a chance to SHOW them how to behave when they’re angry or frustrated, because I can empathize with them. I’m frustrated, too, and don’t always want to ‘use my words.'”
Think about your own child’s PDA (Public Displays of *Anarchy) and any negative reactions from the public you may have experienced. Now imagine that same scenario with any of the following responses from a stranger:
The voice of child development:
“It’s so hard to be a 2 year old with a five minute attention span.”
“It’s a challenge when they are in that ‘no’ (running away, know-it-all) phase. Luckily they’ll grow out of it.”
The voice of support (with a smile or a wink)
“What a polite child to say ‘excuse me’. He must hear that from someone else, too.”
“What a nice mama to let you explore the way you need to!”
As parents, we need to model the positive behaviors we want our children to learn. As community members, we need to model the positive interactions we want our fellow parents to practice. You have the power to prevent child abuse. How will you use it?
For more information about resources for child abuse prevention in our community, you can call United Way 211 or call (319) 339-6179, go to www.jcempowerment.org or www.facebook.com/pcajc, or email [email protected].
*an-ar-chy : a situation of confusion and wild behavior in which the people in a country, group, organization, etc., are not controlled by rules or laws
Laurie Nash lives in Iowa City with her husband, 13-year-old son, 7-year-old daughter, and their dog Bella. For 25 years she has worked with young children and their families in a variety of settings including child care, Head Start, a children’s mental health center, a public school district, and a pediatric health clinic. She has a BA in psychology and a MS in early childhood/special education. Laurie is currently the early childhood specialist for Johnson County Empowerment/Early Childhood Iowa Area and the chairperson for Prevent Child Abuse – Johnson County.