KAREN WICKER: Addressing Family Abuse And Neglect
Much to my dismay, I discovered while watching Dr. Phil, Oprah and other shows that the theme of abuse and neglect in families seemed to be the issue of the day for the TV talk show circuit. I was surprised to see celebrities talking on the topic. I am glad to see this hush-hush topic be brought out into the open, so society can help families to deal with it.
Research relates the increase of abuse to the rise of substance use among women, and the fact that families are living in a "got-to-have-it-now" society. I think it has to do with the fact that our families have little skills to deal with their emotions, and they are passing it along to their children.
This past year I have been conducting parenting sessions at a nearby correctional center. I worked with female inmates who were mothers and will be released within the next two years.
Five basic parenting skills were covered: encouragement, can-do, choices, self-control and respecting feelings.
These basic parenting skills are interpersonal skills, skills we use or should use every day to communicate effectively with our families, co-workers, friends and people in general. These are also skills we learn. We are not born with them. As a reminder to parents I might be in contact with, I will ask, "Where do children learn to be violent or aggressive? My answer is, "Parents are the prime role model."
One skill in particular with these sessions puts a great deal of emphasis on self-control. Sounds simple enough. To make things real and to help parents open up, I tell them my "mommy fit" stories and about other times I have felt frustrated, and how I struggled with finding the best way for me to gain my self control. I then try to ask them to give me examples in their lives and how they could possibly use the self-control skill.
One inmate in particular was having a tough time with the concept. She had been away from her son for the past five years. He was two when she left, and he will be seven when she is released this summer. She feels he has been spoiled during her absence by her sister, who was caring for him. The sister felt sorry for him, so she let him have his way.
The mom at first talked about how she was not going to stand for his insolence and demands and would probably handle him like her mom had handled her. After listening in the class and struggling with the concept of active listening and respecting feelings, she began to have a better understanding.
She now says when she calls him, and he demands that she take him to Disney World when she gets out, she will sit with him and explain why they cannot go right away. She will try to be creative and help him to make a plan for going and how they both will have a part. She says instead of hitting or yelling, she will try to reason and understand. Hopefully this will be a new beginning for this child. The mom is finishing up a five-year-sentence for attempted murder, and the father is serving a longer sentence for similar charges.
Oddly enough, these incarcerated parents have an advantage over us parents in the outside world. They have an opportunity to read, discuss and make plans for how they can be better parents. Most of us fly by the seat of our pants.
Parenting isn't easy, but we are responsible for our children and how they grow and develop. Learning self control and practicing it at home could be one of the most critical things we do for reducing abuse than anything else.
Karen Wicker is a family and consumer science agent with the Cooperative Extension. She may be reached at Karen_Wicker@ncsu.edu.
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