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A Layman's Observations on Child Abuse

This article is not to find blame, judge, condemn or condone child abuse. It is the author's observations of the cause, cost, prevention and cure of child abuse, which is one of the greatest problems facing our nation and perhaps most nations of this planet.

Most children are born into dysfunctional families, where victimization of each other becomes the normal pattern of behavior. Children are not treated with love and respect because their parents haven't learned how to love and respect themselves or others or are following patterns of behavior learned from their own parents. Most people are suffering from self-hatred or guilt. Although a majority of parents want their children, they apparently seem compelled to project their own problems onto them or neglect, abandon or in other ways abuse them.

Many parents treat their children how they were treated: They do not talk to them, hold or hug them, or breast feed them. The children are propped up to be bottle fed, and as a result, they regurgitate because they are denied needed nurturing. They are uninstructed about how to behave, and when they begin their attempts to learn about the world about them, they are beaten. They are treated differently for the same behavior, and are ignored when they desire anything. As a result of this abuse and lack of intimacy, as adults they become fearful of intimacy and rejection, become substance abusers or violent, and sometimes "get even" by indiscriminately striking out at whoever is available.

Millions of abused children attend school and take their problems with them. Unfortunately, few schools give parent education classes to children or adults and many do not attempt to deal with the problem of child abuse. Many establish Conflict Resolution programs which are the mere beginning. They prepare charges, have a hearing or trial, judge and make recommendations concerning the child. This, however, addresses only one child at a time. A more successful program would be to establish an environment (a) where students feel important, equal to others and cared for; (b) where school disruptions and namecalling and bullying are not tolerated; and (c) where it is announced that students and parents can share their problems confidentially with an administrator, teacher, counselor or mentor (Successful programs have referred troubled students to older students, even if these older students are having problems of their own. Helping others with their problems has the effect of helping oneself).

Ultimately, the cure for child abuse may be a lifelong process of therapy. A loving, understanding, close person may be able to give the child or adult what he missed. Of course, some of the following that is denied to the child may never be compensated for.

An infant's needs, in addition to proper nourishment, clothing and shelter, are touching, holding, eye to eye contact, speaking, and breast feeding. In this manner bonding, a feeling of unity or intimacy, is achieved between the child and caregiver. Infancy is the beginning of the need of intimacy which continues throughout the individual's life. Children may die if their need for intimacy is not met.

The language used by the caregiver is almost as important as the physical contact with the child. While holding the child, the caregiver should tell the child that he will always be loved by him; that he is a wonderful child; that he is beautiful, bright, intelligent and creative; and that he is allowed to make mistakes as he learns. Read fairy tales and sing to the child.

As the child's ability to maneuver about manifests itself, which occurs around 18 months to 2 years, the child begins to become more aware of the outside world and desires to explore and control it. Yet, as he moves about, he always returns to his place of safety and stability, the caregiver. Many caregivers have trouble at this critical stage of development of the child. They want to look upon this child, "my baby," as still being closely dependent upon him or her, and are upset and strike out at the child's struggle for self-assertion and independence. The activities of the "mischievous" child are subconsciously viewed by the caregiver as a threat to the unity he once enjoyed with the child. Because of lack of knowledge and patience, it also becomes difficult for many parents to continue to properly nurture the child by giving the child love, never a denial of it, strict discipline, no corporal punishment, and opportunities to grow and develop and praise when the child completes his opportunities.

Examples of nurturing are showing an interest in the child's welfare by expressing concern about his companions, setting aside time for discussion of problems and participation in family activities. The child should be instructed as to definite standards of performance that enable him to know whether he has succeeded, or if not, how far he has fallen short and what efforts would be required to achieve success. He should be presented with challenges to learn to appreciate his strengths.

The caregiver should also demand high standards of behavior, define the powers, privileges and responsibilities to be accorded the child, and be strict and consistent in enforcement of his rules. Yet, he should exhibit a democratic spirit, allowing the child a voice in the making of family plans. Evaluation of the child's conduct and not criticism is very important. Discipline should not be harsh. The caregiver should reward proper behavior and not use corporal punishment or withdrawal of love.

The caregiver should treat the child as a loved and respected adult, and yet realize that his child is learning and needs guidance. The caregiver should be flexible and realize that the child is unique, and that if the child's desires will not harm him or others, should permit the child freedom to live his own life as he sees it. He should allow the child space, eliminate any ideas of ownership, and aid him in his choices. "Live and let live" also applies to the raising of one's own children.

Through interest in the child, guidance provided by clearly defined rules of expected behavior, fair treatment and respect for the child's views, the caregiver would contribute greatly to the child's self-esteem and cause him to become an active, self-assured and expressive child who is successful physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. The child would be able to trust his observations and responses and have confidence that his efforts will become successful. His confidence will be based upon an adequate assessment of his abilities and character. He would anticipate acceptance from others. He would lead and listen in discussion, be willing to express his opinion despite any disagreement, and not be especially sensitive to criticism. He would not be self-conscious or preoccupied with personal difficulties. He would have little anxiety and psychosomatic troubles, such as headaches, abdominal distress, insomnia or fatigue. He would feel important and equal to others, be highly interested in public affairs, and be able to fully function as a competent adult in our society.

        David C. Hakim

        Sterling Heights, Michigan

        February 8, 1994