Today, we will finish up our series on child abuse. Many people think that child abuse only happens in lower socioeconomic families or situations, or see it as a cultural issue. This is a dangerous assumption to make. Child abuse has other risk factors, including: Having a history of abuse in your family of origin with you or your spouse. Going through abuse as a child, particularly if you haven't worked on the issues that abuse creates, or haven't processed your own pain from growing up in an abused family, has the potential to make you more vulnerable to child abuse.
Not understanding the needs of a child or appropriate childhood development. When you understand what to expect at different stages of childhood development, it makes it a little easier to make sense of your child's behaviors and what is developmentally appropriate. This also includes understanding effective discipline strategies for each stage of development. Many times, our children can stir up unresolved feelings from our own history if we aren't aware of them. It is also common for us to carry the "thumbprint" of our own family rules and expectations (most of them unspoken or unwritten) into our own family systems if we aren't conscious of this.
Substance abuse or mental health issues in your family, particularly if they are not being actively addressed.
Having a child under the age of 4.
Having a child with special needs, or any particular need that increases the stress or caregiver burden (e.g., chronic physical illness or disability, developmental disabilities).
Having transient caregivers in the home, such as a boyfriend of a single parent, an extended relative or friend.
Having a history of domestic violence in your marriage or relationships.
Having parental thought processes that support inappropriate treatment of a child or that justify maltreatment of a child and others.
Not having an adequate support system as a parent.
This is just the tip of the iceburg for risk factors for child abuse. We encourage you to do your own research on this topic, especially if you fear that you are bordering on abusive behavior or if other's have commented that they are concerned about how you interact with your kids.
The most important part: knowing that help is available. If you suspect child abuse or actually see a child being abused, remember that we are all mandated reporters. It's better to be safe then sorry. A child doesn't have the resources or ability to protect themselves... as adults, we must do this for them! The child abuse hotline is: 1-800-4ACHILD. You don't have to be the investigator or determine if what you are seeing is truly abuse. When you call the hotline, that is what they do. If you are concerned that you might harm your child in any way, please contact a professional counselor to help you learn better coping skills, to work through whatever feelings you are having, and to learn be a better parent.
Joleen Watson, MS, LMFTA, NCC, is a therapist at Imagine Hope Counseling Group. She enjoys doing marriage counseling, relationship counseling, couples counseling, and individual counseling. Imagine Hope also specializes in family, child and adolescent counseling and serves Indianapolis area including the surrounding areas of Carmel, Noblesville, Zionsville, Westfield, and Fishers.