Friday, May 1, 2009

Kids Paying the Price

King 5 report on child abuse cites a disturbing statistic: three times as many kids have been admitted this year at Seattle Children's Hospital because of abuse-related brain injuries than last year.
"All parents are stressed," Dr. Frank Rivara, a Children's Hospital pediatrics professor, told King 5. "And there's a lot who are very stressed because they've lost their jobs and lost their homes."
The story includes a link to a new video with tips on coping with a crying baby and other pressures of new parenthood.
It's a fact of life that when we're struggling we take it out on those closest to us. Bad day at work? Snap at your spouse. Health insurance reject your claim? Yell at the dog. 
Didn't get the job interview? Slam your toddler hard enough to inflict a head injury? I think it's more complex than that.
 Physical violence is a learned response. We learn how to parent from our own parents. If they believed that a good smack was the way to quiet a whining toddler, then you are more likely to do the same. The more you do it, the easier it gets. A guilty habit. And then on that very bad, awful, terrible day when you get laid off and a car rear-ends you in traffic and your baby won't stop crying and you've had a few beers?
It's easy to judge parents who harm their kids. I've interviewed moms and dads who have done things that will haunt them forever -- and put them behind bars.
So what can we do? We need to learn new ways of disciplining our kids before things get out of control. To foster a culture where corporal punishment isn't OK and parents have somewhere to turn in a crisis. To pay for great programs like public health nurses who visit low-income moms and their babies.
To reach out to parents of young kids we know and give them a break by offering to babysit. To call someone in a financial tailspin and take them out for coffee. To nod when they say they're fine and then ask again. 
(Photo: by D. Sharon Pruitt)

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