Editor’s note: Current PrEvents is produced by the Central Vermont New Directions Coalition as part of the Regional Prevention Partnership grant from the Vermont Department of Health.
All parents want to be successful at caring for their children. Yet child abuse and neglect are tragic realities within many families in our communities. Each day children are abandoned, neglected, physically, sexually or emotionally abused. Sadly, violence toward children is not new. However, we have made real progress in Vermont in learning how to prevent child abuse and neglect.
Parenting patterns are first learned in childhood and tend to be repeated later in life when children become parents. Childhood experiences impact the attitudes, skills and ways we parent, but we do not have to repeat the mistakes from our past. We can learn and choose the type of parent we want to be and be very successful at this important job.
The best way to support healthy parenting is for adults and teenagers to participate in parent education before actually becoming parents or soon after having a child. If we learn about children’s needs and develop positive parenting skills, we can stop passing the cycle of abuse on to the next generation.
Prevent Child Abuse Vermont offers a number of parent education classes, called Nurturing Parenting Programs, as well as Circle of Parents Support Groups for parents and other caregivers. These groups emphasize “parenting in the present,” learning healthy relationship skills and empathy.
Parenting is a process
Becoming a parent is one of the most challenging jobs in the world. It is a lifelong job with round-the-clock demands, frustrations and curveballs — often on little sleep. At the same time, being a parent can bring a richness unmatched by any other experience in our lives.
Parenting is a process designed to nourish, protect and guide a new life through the course of childhood (and beyond). Parenting involves four main components: Provide and promote physical and mental health; give emotional warmth and nurturance; support opportunities to develop individuality and intellect; and nurture social and emotional skills.
Children who have strong emotional ties with parents or caregivers who are positive about other people and the world have the best chance to develop their own individual potential.
Building blocks of parenting
How do we raise healthy, happy children free of abuse and neglect? Here are the building blocks of parenting: empathy; knowledge of child development; self-awareness and self-care; love and respect.
Empathy is critical to the growth and wellbeing of every child. Empathy involves trying to put ourselves in the child’s “shoes” and understand how they feel. Learning to empathize with our children promotes healthy growth and development.
Good parenting involves knowing what to expect of children at different ages. Babies are entirely dependent upon their parents. As they grow older, their abilities to meet their own needs develop slowly. Understanding child development helps us have realistic expectations.
Parents must consider their own needs as well as those of their children. Being empathetic to the needs of others requires that we understand our own feelings and needs. Parents whose physical, emotional, social and intellectual needs are met are more prepared to meet the needs of their children.
Parenting is the process of helping children feel accepted and loved as a person no matter their behavior. Unconditional positive love from a parent tells children that, despite their mistakes or accidents, they are still loved and valued.
Parenting is also about respect. Healthy, nurturing parents respect their children as human beings. Children’s feelings, intentions, thoughts, and bodies are held in high regard — not treated as objects to be manipulated. Effective parents talk to their children with the same courtesy and consideration they expect for themselves.
Having supportive and caring parents and adults helps create healthy, resilient children. Similarly, parents who are actively involved in the prevention process play a big role in keeping their children safe.
Keep communication open. Talking with children and teens sets the stage for a healthy, open relationship and increases the likelihood that children and teens will come to the adults in their life when something is troubling them or if they need help. With teens, it is especially important to remind ourselves to breathe and listen openly, even if we don’t agree with what they say. When they know that adults will listen and not judge them, they are more likely to open up.
Model healthy boundaries. It is important that all children and teens know that personal boundaries are recognized and respected. Let them know that their body is their own. They can make decisions about how, when and if they are touched. Begin talking with our children about boundaries at a young age and model healthy boundaries. Respect the boundaries they set and make sure others do too. Talk with them about appreciating others’ boundaries. Set limits if they do not seem to respect them.
Be informed. As adults, we need to understand what abuse and neglect are and how we can respond to things that come up in our children’s lives. Being aware and having current information allows us to see potentially troubling behavior and respond appropriately.
Steven Ness is the Family Support Programs Manager at Prevent Child Abuse Vermont, which offers parenting programs and training to schools and community groups on how to protect children from sexual abuse. For more ways to support parents and the prevention of child abuse and neglect, please visit our website www.pcavt.org or call 1-800-CHILDREN (800-244-5373).