Getting To Know Your Child — Part 2: Coping With The Stress

April 29, 2011

Body

Imagine for a moment that you have a toothache, and need help. The problem is you can only make one sound, and it's the same sound you make for everything else that you need. All you can do is make it louder or softer, but it's still only one sound. How hard would it be to let someone know using only verbal communication that your back molar was causing shooting pain, and that you were absolutely miserable? And how frustrating would it be for someone who wanted to help you, but couldn't understand what you needed? In a very simplified form, that is the nature of stress in a parent-child relationship when that child is an infant.

So this is what you're up against.

The majority of cases of child physical abuse involve children less than one year old. In many of these cases, parents may be less knowledgeable regarding child development or may suffer from untreated mental illness (depression, anxiety and so forth); these are merely examples, but common ones.

Related to this, I would ask you to think about the following. If you've ever had a toothache, you know how uncomfortable that is. Imagine if you didn't understand what that was? You didn't know how to fix it? You had no words or means of expressing that you hurt and needed help except for one sound. That's where your child is.

She does not possess an evolved vocabulary to describe that dull aching soreness that is happening in her gums. She feels pain — period. The only way for her to express that is to cry. Crying is a means (but not her only means) of communication. Most often she's trying to tell you something. When you can't figure it out, don't take it personally. If it becomes too much, make sure the baby is safe and walk away for a few moments. That is much better than lashing out. It's not failure, but rather a sign of an aware well-adjusted adult. It's normal for your baby to cry. It's normal for you to be frustrated and tired. It's not OK for you to take out your frustration on your baby.

It is extremely important to become conversant with child development. Here are some places on the web where issues related to development are discussed. The American Academy of Pediatrics offers a great resource through its website and my friend in Child Life at the hospital also suggests Scholastic. The idea is that parents need to understand where their child is so they don't have unrealistic expectations of what their child should be doing. Understanding a child's development milestones may make you less likely to blame yourself or your child for not being potty trained at 18 months, for example. Remember, however, that all children are a little different, and if you have concerns about your child's development, talk to your pediatrician.

This is a crucial component of prevention of child abuse. The vast majority of child abuse occurs in infants and toddlers. Many injuries that we see here that typify abuse are not the signs of evil people, but rather very frustrated parents who are unable to cope with the stress of parenting. I included a couple of ideas here, but I'd be very happy to hear what other people have to suggest. The Child Abuse Pediatrics (CAP) has a program called "Lines of Advice". You'll find these clotheslines with advice from parents to parents with help for various situations, such as how to deal with a crying baby. Check it out if you have occasion to visit the hospital in the West Tower Lobby or Emergency Center.

Be sure to read part 1 of this series: Getting To Know Your Child Understanding The Basics.

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