The holidays are a time to spend time with friends and family and to give thanks for and celebrate the many gifts we enjoy – families, material, health and spiritual. However, often accompanying these feelings of joy and gladness are increases in stress that may put children at risk.
Sadly, holidays often are among the busiest times for agencies working with children and families hurt by abuse. Intentions are the best, but stress from travel, family and personal relationships, deadlines, school, shopping and its associated expenses mounts and even the most caring and concerned adults can respond with anger or abuse.
Last year, more than 3,000 children were abused or neglected in Jefferson County. In Indiana, 320 children in Clark County and 155 in Floyd County were abused or neglected. Statewide, 10 children in Kentucky and more than 40 children in Indiana died from injuries due to abuse and neglect.
But we know the numbers are much higher. Researchers estimate that as few as one in 10 instances of abuse are actually confirmed by authorities, making it impossible to understand the real scope of the issue. This year, starting with increased awareness and intentional behavioral efforts surrounding the holidays, maybe we can begin to chip away at the numbers.
For starters, parents can try to pay attention to their stress and take a break when emotion overwhelms reason. Renew conversations only after calm and composure have returned, and help children communicate. Ask what is bothering them and react with reason rather than yelling or hitting, and ask all adults in the family circle to do the same.
Children model or mirror behaviors, so if you react with shouts and/or abuse, the child likely will reflect these behaviors in the future. React with calm and the child likely will act and react from a similar place.
Other tips from our Face It Movement partners include:
- While listening to a child cry can become frustrating, shaking or harming a child is never the answer.
- When upset with your child, give yourself some space. Walk away and count to 10 to calm down.
- It is OK to leave the child in a crib or other safe place while you regroup.
- Keep calm. Your anger only ignites the situation and changes the focus from the behavior of the child to your anger.
Also, if you witness abuse, document the situation and report it to authorities, and, if you are close with the caregiver, calmly try to intervene and de-escalate a potentially harmful situation in a kind and non-judgmental manner by offering to help.
By doing these things, we all contribute to ensuring the happiest and healthiest holidays possible for children, for all of us.