It shouldn’t hurt to be a child, but for too many kids, it does.
Abused and neglected children are everywhere. In the pew at church. On your son’s soccer team. In your daughter’s Girl Scout troop. In the house next door.
The child who suffers from abuse and neglect doesn’t always wear a sign or a bruise or a cast. Child abuse isn’t always announced by broken arms or black eyes.
But when you do see evidence of it, don’t look away. Child abuse thrives on silence. Children who are abused have no voice. We are their voice.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. What difference can you make? Plenty if you do any one of these:
Educate yourself: Understand what abuse is, what neglect really is. Abuse isn’t just what leaves a bruise or broken bone. It’s the name calling and shaming and screaming rage that leaves scars on a soul, that can break a heart. It can be neglect, physical abuse, emotional abuse or sexual abuse.
Know the signs of child abuse: They include: Injuries, bruises, fear, depression, difficulty trusting others, having a hard time making friends, sudden changes in eating or sleeping patterns, inappropriate sexual behavior, keeping secrets, poor hygiene, aggressive behavior.
Report abuse: Consider yourself to be a mandated reporter. If you see a child being hurt, hear a child constantly crying or screaming next door, see evidence of abuse, or if a child tells you about abuse, report it to child protective services or to the police. Keep reporting it until the child is helped.
Know the emergency number to report child abuse.
Err on the side of the child: When in doubt, report it. When in doubt, believe the child. When in doubt, err on the side of protecting the child. You don’t have to be 100 percent sure it’s abuse or neglect. Leave that to the experts.
Listen: If a child tells you about abuse, listen, reassure and believe the child. Tell the child that telling you was the right thing to do.
Learn the difference between thoughtful discipline and harmful discipline:
If you’re angry or upset, wait to discipline your child. Give yourself a time out. Count to ten. Calm down. Reward the behavior you want. Know what triggers your own anger and out-of-control emotions and have a plan to respond instead of react.
Create a support network around you: Carry a 9-1-1 card of names to call in an emergency and post it on the fridge and in your smart phone. List people who can help babysit, run errands, or give you time when you need to de-stress.
Decide that the cycle of abuse and neglect stops with you: Some 30 percent of abused and neglected children will abuse their children. If you were abused or neglected as a child, get help. It’s never too late to get help for that wounded child that you still are. Find a counselor, a program and do whatever it takes to heal so you don’t end up hurting anyone else.
Tell your own children that you love them: Tell yourself that, too.
Help a stressed out parent: Babysit a child for a parent who needs a break, especially a single parent or a new parent.
Watch over the neighborhood: Spend time on your front porch or stoop. Be a presence and power for the children where you live. Throw a block party. Get to know your neighbors and their children.
Make sure children know they are not responsible for abuse.
Speak up: Courage is a muscle. Use it and it grows.
Every child is our child.
Imagine if we all acted like we believed that.