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The reality of child abuse

Awareness and education for Child Abuse Prevention Month

In our society, few issues are as heartbreaking and disturbing as child abuse. Every child deserves to grow up in a safe, loving and nurturing environment.

However, not every child in our world has the opportunity to be raised in this kind of home. Many children face the reality of abuse – enduring physical, emotional or sexual harm that leave a lifetime of trauma for the child to cope with.

Child abuse is often a topic that invokes discomfort, fear and denial. Yet by shining a light on prevention, we can work toward a future free of child abuse.

The reality of child abuse

There are many forms of child abuse, each leaving seen or unseen long-lasting negative impacts on the victim. Types of abuse include physical, emotional, sexual and neglect.

Lasting mental health results of abuse can include post-traumatic stress, eating disorders, difficulty internalizing problems, anxiety and emotional reactivity disorders, depressive disorders as well as deficits in emotional processing. Abuse has also been associated with negative physical health conditions in adulthood such as chronic pain syndromes, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and irritable bowel syndrome. According to statistics from UNICEF and the CDC, millions of children experience abuse each year. However, the numbers are frequently underreported due to fear, shame and lack of knowledge or education on abuse.

The causes of child abuse often vary and are typically complex. They tend to be rooted in various factors including family crisis or stress, mental health issues, substance abuse and a lack of resources and support. In most child abuse cases, the abuser is someone the child knows, which makes it even more difficult to recognize and address the abuse.

Another common thing we may all struggle with is feeling overstimulated or angry with our children. Dysregulation is common in parents, and without the proper tools, it can lead to grave consequences.

Dysregulation and tips to self-regulate

Self-regulation is a process that allows individuals to consciously control their thoughts, emotions and actions. This includes being able to adjust level of alertness to match the demands of their environment, achieve their goals and display and express emotions and behavior in socially appropriate ways.

Dysregulation can present through aggressive behaviors, social situation struggles, inability to “turn off” at night, constant worry and difficulty focusing. In addition, children may become picky about eating, struggle with school work, be moving constantly and exhibit big behaviors.

Parents and children can build self-regulation skills together through modeling appropriate coping behaviors, offering empathy and co-regulating. Self-regulation is something that has to be taught and practiced often.

Here are a few tools to support regulating your emotions:

  • Hydrate well
  • Consume nutritious meals and snacks
  • Name your emotions; talk about the intensity of emotions and link to reactions
  • Exercise regularly
  • Sleep at least 8 hours a night
  • Don’t be afraid to seek help for support with trauma/stressors

Recognizing the signs of abuse

Recognizing child abuse can often be challenging because they can vary depending on the individual child as well as the type of abuse occurring. Physical abuse may leave visible marks such as bruises, lacerations or broken bones.

Emotional abuse and neglect may manifest in behavior changes, mood shifts or poor academic performance. Sexual abuse may leave physical signs but can also result in sexualized behaviors that were not previously present. Other common signs of abuse can include age regression behaviors, bed wetting, nightmares, fear and avoidance of certain people or situations, social withdrawal, self-harm and becoming uncharacteristically aggressive.

Breaking the cycle

Breaking the cycle of abuse is often a multifaceted approach that involves education, intervention and support. Providing parents and caregivers with the tools and resources they need to cope with stress, manage emotions in a healthy manner and build positive relationships can help reduce the risk of abuse within families.

Children often feel ashamed, embarrassed and afraid to speak about their experiences of abuse. By educating children about their rights, boundaries and helping them to identify safe adults, it can empower them to speak up about any abuse they might experience.

Adults frequently fear judgment, uncertainty, repercussions or a violation of privacy if they report abuse. Breaking the cycle requires communities to normalize openness, empathy and support where survivors can feel empowered to share their stories.

At our Buckner Family Hope Center® locations, entire families have access to counseling, education and community to help them reach their fullest potential, heal trauma and come together as the strongest family possible.

By providing education and resources for parents, caregivers and communities, we can equip individuals to recognize the signs of abuse, report abuse, seek help and create environments that foster child safety.

Taking action

There are many ways to act against abuse within our communities. Whether it is volunteering with local organizations, advocating for policy change or simply being a supportive presence for children in our lives, we can all make a difference.

By speaking up, refusing to turn a blind eye and reporting suspected abuse, we can all be agents for change by putting an end to child abuse.

Written by Hallie Burt, maternity counselor for Buckner Children and Family Services.

Learn more about Child Abuse Prevention Month.

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