“During a pandemic, risk factors for child abuse and neglect like parental stress due to finances and instability increase,” said Deb Schneider, director of Children’s Hospital Intervention and Prevention Services (CHIPS) Center at Children’s of Alabama. Now that schools and childcare centers are closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important to make plans to keep kids busy at home. Advance planning and working together can help reduce stress in the household.
Parenting During a Pandemic
- Establish a routine to help children cope with anxiety
- Limit children’s access to news and social media related to the pandemic.
- Never discipline a child when you are angry.
- If you, the parent/caregiver, are experiencing stress and anxiety, take a break. Call a friend or family member.
- Family activities like walking, playing card games and working puzzles help ease stress.
- Give children access to art supplies and music as alternatives to screen time
Being away from friends, extended family and social activities can be hard on teens and kids. To help them stay connected, set up FaceTime or Skype playdates or visits.
Recognizing and Reporting Abuse
While kids are currently out of school due to the COVID-19 pandemic, experts at Children’s of Alabama want to remind you of the importance of recognizing and reporting abuse of any kind.
“By learning common types of abuse and what you can do, you can make a huge difference in a child’s life,” Schneider said. “The earlier abused children get help, the greater chance they have to heal from their abuse and not perpetuate the cycle.”
The four types of child abuse are:
• Physical Abuse
• Sexual Abuse
• Emotional Abuse
The signs of child abuse vary depending on the type of abuse, but there are some common indicators.
Warning signs of emotional abuse in children:
• Excessively withdrawn, fearful or anxious about doing something wrong
• Extremes in behavior (extremely compliant or extremely demanding; extremely passive or extremely aggressive)
• Doesn’t seem to be attached to the parent or caregiver
• Acts either inappropriately adult (taking care of other children) or inappropriately infantile (rocking, thumb sucking, tantrums)
Warning signs of physical abuse in children:
• Frequent injuries or unexplained bruises, welts or cuts
• Is always watchful and “on alert,” as if waiting for something bad to happen
• Injuries appear to have a pattern such as marks from a hand or belt
• Shies away from touch, flinches at sudden movements or seems afraid to go home
• Wears inappropriate clothing to cover up injuries,i.e. long-sleeved shirts on hot days
Warning signs of neglect in children:
• Clothes are ill-fitting, filthy or inappropriate for the weather
• Hygiene is consistently bad (unbathed, matted and unwashed hair, noticeable body odor)
• Untreated illnesses and physical injuries
• Is frequently unsupervised or left alone or allowed to play in unsafe situations and environments
• Is frequently late or missing from school
Warning signs of sexual abuse in children:
• Trouble walking or sitting
• Displays knowledge or interest in sexual acts inappropriate to his or her age, or even seductive behavior
• Makes strong efforts to avoid a specific person without an obvious reason
• Doesn’t want to change clothes in front of others or participate in physical activities
Supervision is important. Know where your children are. Make sure children know sexual abuse is never their fault and that they won’t be in any trouble if they tell.
Help for Alabama’s abused children is available at the CHIPS Center. The CHIPS Center provides forensic medical evaluations, psychosocial assessments, play therapy, counseling for non-offending caregivers and other support services. All counseling and preventive services are free. If you suspect a child has been or is being abused, please contact your county Department of Human Resources or call the CHIPS Center at Children’s by dialing 205-638-2751. For more information, visit childrensal.org/CHIPS.