published Thursday, April 15th, 2010

Upton: Child abuse can take many forms

Parents simply amaze me. They give their lives to love, guide, finance and educate their children safely into adulthood.

Ideally, their children respond to their efforts with gratitude, admiration, a desire to please them, and motivation to practice the things they've been taught.

Unfortunately, there is another side to child rearing. Some parents, overwhelmed by life's daily demands and their own internal conflicts, find themselves struggling to manage their tempers and the behavior of their children in constructive ways. The movie "Precious" depicted a horrendous view of parenting gone awry and the physical, mental and emotional scarring that resulted.

One way to help keep children safer is to recognize the types of abuse and take action to prevent them. There are four main categories: emotional abuse, physical abuse, neglect and sexual abuse.

* Emotional abuse is injury to the psychological capacity or emotional stability of a child as evidenced by a change in behavior, emotions, or thinking; or as evidenced by anxiety, depression, withdrawal or aggressive behavior.

* Physical abuse is the non-accidental physical injury of a child, ranging from bruising to more aggressive forms of damage.

* Child neglect is the withholding of or failure to provide adequate food, shelter, clothing, hygiene, medical care, education, and/or supervision, such that the child's physical, mental or emotional condition is impaired or at imminent risk of being impaired.

It often does not include, however, a parent's inability to provide for his or her children due to financial lack.

* Sexual abuse involves sexual offenses against a child or the allowance of offenses to be committed. It also includes exploitation of various forms.

Fortunately, many books give great advice on ways to avoid abusive behavior and discipline children effectively. No parent is perfect, but a good parent continues to learn and try new ideas to improve their techniques. Healthy discipline is rooted in a loving home atmosphere that has established clear limits and expectations, consistent consequences, and open communication of feelings and thoughts.

Tools for appropriate consequences vary from taking away privileges and possessions for a prescribed amount of time to the much-debated use of corporal punishment. Creative consequences can include service to others, random acts of kindness and self-monitored consequences for very responsible older teens.

One interesting thing to consider is one's own personality in parenting. Certain people will be more naturally strict while others are naturally more easy-going. You may have to move out of your comfort zone at certain times to respond appropriately to your child.

In the same way, understanding your child's personality can give great insight into the best ways to discipline him or her. Some children respond with a simple change in the facial expression of a parent. Others need more stringent methods. Some behaviors can simply be ignored until they extinguish themselves, such as crying or tantrums in young children.

If you recognize you are feeling stressed, exhausted, or very irritable, take time out for yourself before attempting to handle difficult parenting issues. If you often find yourself feeling out of control or behaving inappropriately with your children, seek help from a counselor or trusted friend immediately.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. If you suspect that a child you care about might be struggling with any of the types of abuse listed above, please contact Child Protective Services at 1-877-237-0004 (for Tennessee) and make a report. You can remain anonymous.

Tabi Upton, MA-lpc is a local therapist and founder of the resource Web site www.chattanoogacounselor.com. E-mail her at tabiupton@bellsouth.net.

about Tabi Upton...

Tabi Upton, MA-LPC is a therapist at New Beginnings Counseling Center.

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