Have you ever suspected that a child has harmful parents? Have you ever wondered if there is any way that you can help? Have you ever wondered if you should even get involved?
Well the answers are simple. Yes, there are ways you can help. And yes, you absolutely should get involved. Plus, making a difference is not as difficult as you may think.
But why should you get involved?
It takes a village to raise a child, right? Well, a child with harmful parents is particularly reliant on non-parent role models.
From debilitating mental illness to criminal behavior, trauma experienced in developmental years can be detrimental to a child’s future. Without support, the risk of detriment is much greater.
So, what do I mean by harmful parents anyway?
These are the toxic parents that are not putting their child’s life in danger by direct means. In other words, they are not abusive towards them in the most severe sense of the word, and removing their children from home is not an option.
Instead, these are the emotionally abusive parents that constantly invent new ways to tell their child that they are worthless. These are the addicted parents that fail to buy proper groceries. These are the neglectful parents that do not take interest in their child’s life. These are the physically abusive parents that know how to not leave a mark.
Often times, these parents are a combination of all of the above.
1. WITH ALL SUSPECTED CHILD ABUSE, DO NOT IGNORE YOUR GUT
Denial is very real when you suspect that a child is being harmed. You can easily convince yourself, in all kinds of ways, that “it can’t be that bad” and “you shouldn’t get involved”.
2. BELIEVE THE CHILD THAT OPENS UP TO YOU
It takes immense courage for a child to seek help. If they chose you, they trust you. Please listen with an open heart and believe them.
3. DO NOT TAKE THEIR PARENTS WORD FOR IT
Just because they are bad parents, it does not mean that they do not want to be parents. Many are well versed in how not to jeopardize custody of their child, or sabotage their own image as a capable parent.
4. ASK, AND ASK AGAIN
Children who are experiencing abuse are often conditioned to believe that their experiences don’t matter. Downplaying and denial are common responses. Just because they have told you once (or even twice) that everything is okay at home, it does not mean that it is.
5. ACCEPT THAT YOU MAY NOT GET INSTANT GRATIFICATION FOR YOUR EFFORTS
Your kindness may go seemingly unappreciated. The child themselves may not even realize your goodwill until they have matured and reflect back on their life.
6. VOCALIZE THAT YOU CARE ABOUT THEM
This can be as simple as asking a student how their weekend went, or as substantial as telling a child in your extended family that you love them.
7. VOCALIZE THAT YOU BELIEVE IN THEM
This may be the most impactful action you can take. Almost nothing will promote fortitude more than telling children that they are brave and capable. Positive reinforcement is crucial when a child is being, or has been, verbally and emotionally abused.
8. CREATE OPPORTUNITIES TO LISTEN
If you are unable to provide them with access to therapy, provide them with opportunities to talk with you. Take them to get ice cream, offer to go for a walk, become a trusted friend.
9. ASK THEM HOW YOU CAN HELP
Depending on the age of the child, and how close your relationship is, help will look different. For example, a younger child may respond that they need a comforting toy, but an older teenager may express that they need a safe place to stay when things are bad at home.
10. CHECK IN AS OFTEN AS YOU CAN
Even if your life, or relationship with the child, makes it impractical to have a weekly hang out, brief follow ups, asking how they have been, will have significance.
Through becoming an adult and mother, I have gained perspective. Today, I am able to fully appreciate how adults from my childhood positively and negatively impacted my life as a whole. From the adults that disappointed, to the adults that supported, they all had a role.
I sincerely hope that my reflections and advice will encourage you to recognize and support the child in your life that is living with harmful parents.
Always remember, there is no act of compassion too small. And never underestimate encouraging words. They can support for a lifetime.