FRANKFORT, Ky. – Stress can increase during the holidays, even in the most loving of families. And that can put some children at risk for abuse.
With children home from school, holiday travel and seasonal shopping and associated expenses, parents can get frazzled more easily than usual. What is typically a fun and joyful time for children can become devastating when parents or caregivers cope with stress by becoming abusive.
The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services (CHFS), the state agency charged with child and adult protection, reminds adults to keep their cool this winter when it comes to disciplining kids.
“Parents enjoy spending time with their children, but frustration can escalate during times of high stress,” said Teresa James, commissioner of the CHFS Department for Community Based Services (DCBS). “It’s never OK to hit a child.”
When parents are upset with a child’s behavior, a tried-and-true method to regain composure is leaving the room and counting to 10, James said.
“Once you return to your child, stay composed and speak in a calm voice,” she said. “Keep a clear head so you can appropriately discipline for unacceptable behavior.”
Teach children how to communicate, James said. Ask them to talk about what’s bothering them rather than reacting by hitting or yelling. Model this behavior, and ask other adults around your children to do the same.
“Children are usually better behaved when their parents and caregivers are happier and more relaxed,” James said.
If you’re under stress, talking to someone is an easy and effective outlet, James said. Looking to other parents for advice helps mothers, fathers and other caregivers feel less isolated in their problems, she said.
“Sometimes just being able to appropriately express anger and frustration can help ease tension,” she said. “Technology can even play a part in helping relieve stress. There are plenty of online support groups and weblogs where parents can see they are not alone.”
Likewise, you can give other parents a break by offering to listen.
James said staff at county DCBS offices may help parents by finding resources to deal with the problems that may cause stress, such as the loss of a job. Community resources are often available to assist families who need help with services like utilities, child care or job training.
“The local offices can assist with referrals to appropriate agencies,” James said.
Log on to https://prd.chfs.ky.gov/Office_Phone/index.aspx to find the phone number for the DCBS office in your county.
Drug and alcohol abuse may increase during the holidays, leading to an increase of child safety risk. Families who need help with these issues can get information about prevention resources from the CHFS Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities’ Substance Abuse Prevention Program at http://dbhdid.ky.gov/dbh/sa.aspx.
Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky (PCAK), one of the cabinet’s community partners, is a statewide nonprofit agency whose mission is to prevent the abuse and neglect of Kentucky's children through its outreach.
“Abuse and neglect are associated with short- and long-term consequences that affect not only the child and family, but also society as a whole,” PCAK Executive Director Jill Seyfred said. “PCAK gives parents and caregivers expert guidance on child safety. We’re proud to be one of DCBS’ partners in prevention.”
PCAK offers a toll-free hotline that provides information and referrals to help prevent child abuse. If you are a parent or caregiver and need a listening ear, call (800) CHILDREN, or visit PCAK online at www.pcaky.org.
James said it takes effort from entire communities to stop abuse and neglect. Kentuckians should remember that if they even suspect child abuse or neglect, they must report it. “It’s the law,” she said.
Last year more than 34,000 reports of abuse met criteria for investigation, and more than 9,900 of those were substantiated.
Call your local police or the cabinet’s child abuse hotline at (877) KYSAFE1 – (877) 597-2331 – to report suspected abuse. Callers will remain anonymous.
Parenting Tips When you feel you need to discipline your child with a timeout or punishment, keep these tips from Prevent Child Abuse Kentucky in mind.
• Get some space. If you are so upset that you feel like screaming -- or more -- leave the room. Say, "I'm so angry; I need a minute to think." Then leave the room or send your child to his room so you can calm down and regroup. You’ll get yourself under control, and it’s a good example for your children.
• Be quick. Catch your child in the act. Delayed reactions dilute the effect of the punishment.
• Use selectively. Use timeout for talking back, hitting and safety-compromising problems. Don't overuse it.
• Keep calm. Your anger only adds fuel to the fire and changes the focus from the behavior of the child to your anger. This prevents you from being in control.
• Stick with it. Once you dole a punishment or say “timeout,” don't back down or be talked out of it. If you decide to use timeout to control hitting, for example, use it every time your child hits, even if he spends most of the day in timeout. Eventually, he'll decide that it's more fun to play without hitting than to sit alone in his room.
The Cabinet for Health and Family Services is home to most of the state's human services and health care programs, including Medicaid, the Department for Community Based Services and the Department for Public Health. CHFS is one of the largest agencies in state government, with nearly 8,000 full and part-time employees throughout the Commonwealth focused on improving the lives and health of Kentuckians.