By Alicia Wieczorek
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. One in seven children experience abuse, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Life stressors increase the chances of unhealthy decision-making, poor coping skills, and negative consequences; increased stress may result in the loss of emotional and physical control and may ultimately lead to long-term emotional and physical effects experienced by our children.
What can parents and caretakers do to reduce stress and increase positive experiences with their children?
Give yourself a timeout: It’s OK to admit that you need to take a breath, collect your thoughts, and recharge. With so many responsibilities, as parents we often forget to stop and think before we act. We expect this from our children yet fail to see the value for ourselves. Role modeling how to briefly walk away from a stressful situation before losing our temper is the best way to teach those who “look up” to us how to handle conflict.
One day at a time: Bills, work, school projects, the birthday party this weekend … the demands go on. Each day, list three reasonable tasks to accomplish. Then, add one thing you and your child will do together to celebrate a successful day. Celebrating success is motivational and inspiring to children and parents. Celebrating might simply be playing a game, taking a walk, or talking while coloring a picture together.
Remember what it is like to be a child: Have fun with your children – it relieves stress and improves your relationship. How about a spontaneous dance-off to a favorite song? Maybe your child mastered the “Floss” viral dance craze, but do they know you’re a pro at “Running Man?” Create new moves together, which might become the next big hit. Find joy every day – even just 15 minutes of fun makes a big difference.
Be present: Unplug from technology, listen to what children tell you, make eye contact, and learn from them. Over time your children will mirror the same actions back to you. Being present reduces the risk of missing nonverbal messages, misinterpretations, and frustrations, and increases the satisfaction of your interactions with each other.
Being mindful and intentional with our thoughts and actions reduces stress and the risks of poor decision-making; it increases the value of our interactions, and improves the overall experiences we give our children, one moment at a time. April reminds us to focus on child abuse prevention; incorporating healthy strategies year-round, shows kids they are loved and helps keep kids safe.
Alicia Wieczorek is clinical services director at New Directions Youth and Family Services Inc., based in Western New York.