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COMMENTARY: Positive parenting reduces stress, decreases risk of child abuse

(Editor's note: April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and Tonya Torosian, the new CEO of Promises2Kids, offers a commentary to encourage parents and caregivers tips to reduce stress that will decrease the risk of child abuse in San Diego County.)

Being a parent can be very challenging, but rewarding at the same time. In the more than 20 years I have been advocating for children and youth, I have seen child abuse affect every family structure, ethnicity and economic group. Child abuse knows no boundaries and no family is immune.

A report of child abuse is made every ten seconds in the United States, and each day more than five children die as a result of child abuse or neglect in our nation. More children under the age of four die from child abuse and neglect than any other single, leading cause of death for infants and young children.

A common denominator in almost every child abuse case is stress. Stress comes in many forms, and I have seen even the greatest of parents become overwhelmed by the pressures of every day life and have to ask for help.

For those who have had past trauma from any type of abuse, parenting can be even more difficult. About 30 percent of abused and neglected children will later abuse their own children, continuing the horrible cycle of abuse, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Since April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, now is no better time to share with you information on how positive parenting and finding ways to cope with stress influence healthier relationship with children and ensure a safe home environment. Here are some quick tips to cope in high-stress situations:

-- Laugh and be silly. There is only one time in your life to have fun and not live life with responsibility – make sure your kids have that opportunity and while you are at it, join in the fun! Letting go every once in awhile does your child good and you as well.

-- Call a relative or friend, and ask for help. Just sharing frustration with someone who understands what you are going through can help relieve the build up of stress. It might be smart to have these contacts on speed dial so you can reach them in a moment’s notice.

-- Don't pick up or touch your child when angry. We all get frustrated, and sometimes we need a break from our children. Try counting to 15 or more when you need a quick break and can’t actually get away.

-- Have realistic expectations for your children. Kids are kids after all, and this is the time that they are figuring out the world. Be there to guide them and provide support even when it may be tough.

-- Get as much rest as possible. Sleep is crucial to everyone’s health and can be especially hard to find time for when you have young children. One way to catch up on your sleep is to take turns with your spouse or partner sleeping in on the weekends.

-- Seek quiet time for yourself. Taking as little as five minutes per day to find inner peace will do wonders for your relationship with your children and for yourself too.

-- Take a parenting class. It’s never too late to learn new techniques to become a better, more confident parent. There are several organizations throughout the county which provide these classes for no charge.

-- Join a parenting group. Hearing from others that may be having the same challenges will let you know you are not alone, plus you will meet new friends who share your interests and concerns.

-- Ask for help. If you are having a difficult time walking away from your children when angry or have began to be harmful in any way, it is time to seek professional help. There are also many free resources available to parents who need guidance through these rough spots.

Parents need to be aware and smart about their limitations as a human and do what they can to avoid setting themselves up for failure. Taking time to know your children and building a mutual respect for one another will further build a familial bond and decrease the chances for abuse. Studies show that a stronger family tie decreases child abuse and neglect, and positions children to be contributing members of society.

During this month, please pledge to cope with stress in a positive way. This will ultimately build a long-lasting and healthy relationship with your children.

What to do

If you suspect child abuse or that a child may be at risk, please call the San Diego County Child Abuse Hotline at (800) 344-6000. Social workers are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and will do an immediate assessment.

Resources

To read a report about "Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities 2009: Statistics and Interventions," click HERE.

To read the GAO report on "Child Maltreatment," click HERE.

To read a study that finds abuse in one in 43 babies, click HERE.

To read fact sheet on "An Approach to Preventing Child Abuse," click HERE.

To read a story about "Avoiding Child Abuse in Times of Stress," click HERE.

Tonya Torosian is the CEO of Promises2Kids, a non-profit leading the fight to break the cycle of child abuse in San Diego. She is an advocate for children and youth, and her work in child welfare and nonprofit management spans 20 years and three states. If you want to learn more about how you can help a child, visit HERE or contact Promises2Kids at (858) 278-4400.