“IF YOU DON’T STOP CRYING, I’LL GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO CRY ABOUT!” “I BROUGHT YOU INTO THIS WORLD, I CAN TAKE YOU OUT!” “I’M GOING TO SLAP YOU INTO THE NEXT COUNTY!” WOW! How many of us have heard THOSE words? I did. In all honestly, the first one doesn’t even make sense… But it was widely used and, as kids, we knew what it meant! It meant that we’d better stop whatever we were doing and FAST!
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. What does that mean? Let’s break it down…… Were our parents guilty of child abuse? Absolutely not. Times were different. Parents had control. Children listened. Families worked together. Well, that ship has sailed. We live in a time where the little bit of control that parents still have is slowly diminishing. We can certainly attribute the increased use of technology for part of that. Kids as young as six are given smart phones. By the age of 10, MOST kids have their own cell phones. What does that mean? It means that they have 24-hour access to the entire world and, trust me, they know how to access it. Kids are growing up WAY too fast and we all know that danger is out there and it can find them quickly.
So, how do parents deal with this? Here are some stats for you:
In 2020, there were 234 child fatalities in SC. 145 (62%) involved poor supervision or exposure to a hazard; 114 (78.6%) involved maltreatment or neglect; and 25 (17.2%) involved child abuse. [Source: SCFAC Annual Report 2020, South Carolina State Child Fatality Advisory Committee https://scfacsc.files.wordpress.com/2020/02/2019-scfac-annual-report-final,pdf]
Our children can push every button we have and they will continue to do that for as long as it works for them. So, how do we handle that? Let’s go back to technology. When they are constantly watching their screens, their brains are reeling with all of the information they are processing. When they shut off the technology, their brains are still in full court press, which prompts the statement, “I don’t have anything to do. I’m bored.” As overworked, over-stressed, and exhausted parents, it is so easy to allow this practice for them because they are quiet and that gives us time to get the myriad tasks that we, as adults, face each day done. In this overworked, over-stressed, and exhausted condition, it takes very little for us to explode or, at the very least, react negatively (and often unreasonably) to what in real life can be a pretty benign situation. We snap. We yell. We “swat” (and may or may not actually hit our target).
Let’s add a worldwide pandemic into this equation. YIKES! Now, the bills go on, work goes on (or perhaps you lost your job as a result of this) and now, in addition to everything you’re trying to juggle, you have to monitor your kids’ school work!!! Having personally experienced this, I can tell you that it was a total nightmare!!! That stress level, which was already elevated, has now reached a fever pitch and it’s not even noon yet!!!
First of all, “practice the pause”. This is a little used phrase (and less used practice) that can save a huge amount of heartache and “pressure cooker” explosions. While there were days that I just wanted to start running and never stop (until I remembered that I have passed the point of making THAT happen), I had to find SOME coping skills so that I didn’t do any harm to something or (worse) someone………
In this case, the term “adult time out” comes into play. How do we handle “time out” with our kids? We remove the problem from the child or remove the child from the problem. The psychology behind this practice is to give the child time to self-regulate to diffuse the emotion. Emotions pass. Reactions to emotions can last forever, if handled improperly. In a moment of frustration or anger, these reactions can leave scars on children that will follow them throughout their lives. In addition to emotional scars, sometimes it can elevate into physical scars.
In my case, I had to just walk outside (weather permitting). As someone who suffers greatly from ADHD, “meditation” is a foreign concept to me. The minute I sit down with the idea of “meditating”, my brain immediately goes into hyper-speed. This means that I had to find another coping mechanism. I would sit on the patio, close my eyes, and try to identify as many sounds as I could. Later, I learned that this is actually a form of meditation. Why? Because it diffuses the emotion and slows down the heart rate, lowers the blood pressure, and distracts your brain, if only for a short time. It only takes a few minutes to let the emotion pass to be able to think clearly again. This is what worked for me. What are some other “coping mechanisms”?
It may be that you just need to go into another room away from distractions. It can be just standing in place and doing intentional breathing. Perhaps turning on your favorite music may help - WHATEVER will distract your brain and give the emotion enough time to pass.
Children cannot process emotion. Typically bad behavior in children is nothing more than unprocessed emotions. They have no life skills on which to fall back, when their emotions run amuck. What they do NOT need is negative feedback from those who love them the most. It is important to remember that as their parents, you are their NUMBER ONE ROLE MODEL. Do not join in their chaos but show them by example that there are other ways to deal with these emotions, as well as explaining that emotions can go as quickly as they arise. PRACTICE THE PAUSE.
Also, speak up, if you become aware of any child who may be in an abusive situation. Children will not speak up. Sadly, for some children, it is the only life they know and, as far as they know, that is “normal”.
Children are our greatest resource and our hope for the future. It is our job to protect them. When we control our emotions, we are modeling for our children how to control their emotions. THIS is how this greatly maligned cycle will be broken.
Written by Karen Hyatt, Grandparent, Guest Writer & JSS Parent Resource Consultant
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