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Preventing Child Abuse: What You Need to Know

It’s said that being a parent is the hardest job in the world. Each new stage your child goes through brings new situations and challenges, and it’s important that you know how to handle these situations in a healthy manner.

“It’s easy to become overwhelmed with the challenges of parenthood, but child abuse - physical, emotional, sexual or neglect - is never the answer,” said Shawn Singleton, MD, a pediatrician at Banner Children's at Desert in Mesa, AZ and Banner Thunderbird Medical Center in Glendale, AZ. How big is the problem of child abuse? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “at least 1 in 7 children have experienced child abuse and/or neglect in the past year. Added Dr. Singleton, “nearly 5 children are killed every day from abuse and neglect, and this is likely an underestimate.”

“Child abuse always peaks during times of economic and social stress, crisis and home isolation,” said Dr. Singleton. To keep everyone’s sanity, Dr. Singleton suggests making daily schedules (and sticking to them); setting specific hours for screen time; doing fun things around the house together, like family movie night; and getting outside for walks or bike rides, while social distancing.

Below are additional parenting tips from Dr. Singleton to help prevent abuse.

Your child: Prenatal to 4 years

Nearly everything is new for you as a parent. “You shouldn’t expect to automatically know how to be a parent,” said Dr. Singleton. “Asking for help or seeking resources is not a sign of weakness, rather it is a symbol of strength.”

  • Seek out parenting classes: There are many free or low-cost parenting classes in your community - take advantage of them. “We train for our jobs or to play sports, so why wouldn’t we train as a parent?,” said Dr. Singleton.
  • Understand child development: It’s normal for a new baby to cry a lot, and can even get worse before it gets better, according to Dr. Singleton. Hearing your baby cry can cause stress and anxiety for you, which can lead you to make poor decisions. It is ok to let your baby cry; you can place him in his crib on his back and check on him every 10-15 minutes. Try the Happiest Baby 5 S’s to calm your baby: Swaddle, Side/Stomach, Shush, Swing/Rocking and Suck.
  • Take care of yourself: Having a baby changes your life, while at the same time, you may also be dealing with postpartum depression. It’s difficult to find time and energy to focus on yourself, but it’s a healthy thing to do for you and your baby. Find ways to relax and destress: exercise, keep your environment as calm as possible; create a list of people that you know will respond to you in times of stress and call on them to help you feel connected.

Your child: 4 years and older

As your child ages, new demands and stressors will be placed on you. “Take parenting classes and look for programs that will help you understand your developing child and how you can parent in a healthy way,” said Dr. Singleton. “When you understand how your child’s brain is developing, it helps you know how to have realistic expectations of your child.”

  • Developmentally appropriate discipline: It’s easy to let anger and frustration take over, but hitting, yelling and screaming only teaches your child to act the same way when they feel mad. “Hitting is never acceptable” is an important lesson to teach your child, through your own actions.
  • Practice proper punishment techniques: This teaches your child there are consequences for his actions. “For timeouts, follow the guide of 1 minute per year of life, and don’t overuse timeouts,” said Dr. Singleton. “Sometimes temporarily taking away something valuable to your child is an appropriate response to bad behavior.”
  • Try a reward system: Just like adults, children like to receive recognition for a job well done. “When your son exhibits good behavior, reward him with something he likes, like watching a movie together,” said Dr. Singleton.

Preventing others from abusing your child

Your job as a parent is protecting your child from harm by others. “Develop plans for who you can trust to care for your child, before you actually need someone,” said Dr. Singleton. Give caregivers as much information about your child and her habits as you can, and be specific about what punishment is and isn’t acceptable. Tell them it’s ok to call you if they feel overwhelmed. Giving them a way out may protect your child from harm.

If you’re looking for a daycare, do your research. “Select a center that is fully licensed by your state and has appropriate staff-to-child ratios,” said Dr. Singleton. “Make occasional unexpected visits to the center before and after choosing it to check in on your child.”

Child abuse is a completely preventable problem. “You don’t have to feel alone as a parent,” said Dr. Singleton. “As a pediatrician, I talk regularly with my patients’ parents about the many resources and assistance available to help them be the best parent they can be.”

Your pediatrician is a great resource to help you navigate parenthood. Schedule an appointment with a Banner Health pediatrician to discuss how you can raise your child to be happy and healthy.

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