Child Abuse Prevention: Stress-Reduction Strategies for Parents

Image of family enjoying time connectingGuest blog post for Child Abuse Prevention Month by Lindsey Overstreet, LCSW, MSW Behavioral Health Supervisor at Mosaic Medical with input from Betsy Mitchell, RN Supervisor with the Mosaic Pediatrics team.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month in the United States. As we move into this important month during the global impact of COVID-19, the goal of preventing child abuse feels even more important. The reality is that stress for parents or guardians is one of the biggest drivers for child abuse. And there is no shortage of stress for all of us these days.

We are dealing with school and daycare closures, plus changes to our jobs or loss of work creating financial worries. Many of us are facing difficulties meeting basic necessities. We are also confronting fears around the virus itself, and lack of our natural stress relief activities. I can speak as a parent trying to work from home while caring for young children and now also trying to serve as my child’s kindergarten “teacher”: I am overwhelmed and exhausted. So how can we, as parents and guardians who love our children and are also dealing with exceptional levels of stress, take steps to make sure the way we treat our kids is safe and nurturing?

Flip The Script

We can all probably agree that this period of time is hard. And yet how many of us might have just a month ago longed to have a week at home with our kids where we didn’t have to get them out the door to school or daycare? Instead of talking to our kids about how we are stuck at home, can we instead tell them just how happy we are to get more time with them? Children take their cues from safe adults in their life and if they hear you finding the good in this time at home, they will do the same!

Another way to flip the script with our children’s behavior is to remind ourselves (many times a day if needed) that they are not “doing this to you” by acting out. Instead they are dealing with the stress of their world changing right now too. Let them know you see they are having a hard time. Ask them what they need from you, and remind them what the rules are in your family.

Connect (Virtually!)

Yes, having this time to connect with our kids is great. Our kids also need to connect in some way with friends or family and you need to connect with other adults who help you feel better. We all need a village of support, even if we have to get that village of support through videos, calls, or texts for right now.

Keep Your Basic Routine

It might be tempting to let your kids stay up late or for everyone to eat whatever whenever. But we know that kids are comforted by routine, especially when so many parts of their lives are anything but routine right now. Get your children involved in building a loose structure for your days so they know what to expect. Be sure to make sleep a priority for everyone. Sleep exhaustion tends to bring out more challenging behaviors in our children and makes us less patient.

Ask for What You Need

We can’t be “on” at all times so be sure to speak up for what you need. Ask your partner or another adult in the house to help you get time outside or to read a book (that has nothing to do with COVID-19). If you don’t have another adult in the house and your children aren’t old enough to safely entertain themselves, make sure you do at least one thing each night after they go to bed that brings you joy. That might be dancing to your favorite song, doing some kickboxing videos in your living room, or doing art. If your kids are old enough, think about doing the thing you enjoy in front of them. This can be a way to help them see how important it is for everyone to have some joy and play to cope with stress.

Check Yourself

Are you constantly getting social media pings and news updates on your phone? Maybe now is a good time to check in with yourself and see how all these updates are impacting your mood. I know my frustration level rises quickly when I am trying to “check my phone” and my kids are vying for my attention. Changing the settings on my phone so I am not getting constant updates has helped me feel a lot less snappy with my own kids.

Know Your Audience

Our children are sponges, absorbing and picking up on all that is going on around them. And this is especially true in times of stress. So, if you need to have a conversation where you let off steam to your best friend or you and your partner or spouse are arguing, pay attention to who might be listening. Can the conversation wait until after they go to bed? Can you step into the bathroom and turn on the fan? Or can you go outside to protect your kids from overhearing things they don’t need to hear? If you do have an argument in front of your kids, be sure to make up in front of the kids too so they can be reassured that their family can work through difficulties.

Resources are available for you

If you are struggling with how to manage your anger towards your children or having thoughts of hurting your children, please know that there is professional help for you and your children. Mosaic Medical pediatric medical providers and behavioral health consultants can help you come up with a plan to manage your stress and keep your children safe. Call 541-383-3005 to get set up for a phone or video appointment.

You can also reach out to MountainStar Family Relief, who can provide support over the phone even while their centers are closed during COVID-19.

  • Bend & Redmond:  541-322-6820
  • Madras:  541-475-2537
  • Prineville:  541-416-0146

To help parents experiencing stress over COVID-19, the American Academy of Pediatrics has some suggestions and ideas: click here to read more.

If you are feeling unsafe with your partner or spouse, please contact Saving Grace at 541-389-7021 (24-hour helpline for domestic violence).

Children are especially vulnerable to abuse going unnoticed right now without teachers or daycare to notice and report. If you have concerns about a child experiencing abuse or neglect, please call 1-855-503-SAFE (7233).

#NationalChildAbusePreventionMonth