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Child Abuse

A recent question (printed in its entirety because it is so descriptive) and my answer:

“I have a 17-month-old daughter who has consistently been advanced in her development, so right now she is more like a 2-year old. Since she was born, I have been frustrated by my husband’s rough handling of her when he loses patience. He has never purposefully hit her, and I’m sure he never would. However he regularly lets his anger affect how he handles her physically. If he is sleeping (he works nights so he must sleep during the day) and she climbs on him or bothers him, he will  suddenly grab her and roughly put her onto the floor without letting her gain balance, so she falls and hits her head. If she pulls his hair or does anything that hurts he will quickly shove her away from him. If she is getting into mischief he will rip things out of her hand or quickly pick her up and harshly put her down elsewhere so hard that she sometimes loses her balance. When changing her diaper if she kicks and squirms he will grab her legs and pin them down, and she sometimes has faint bruising from this. (I admit she can be difficult to change.) Sometimes when she cries he tells her to shut up and to stop. His first reaction is to get annoyed with her rather than be sympathetic or concerned.

“Today I was really concerned. I heard my husband yell my daughter’s name and then I heard a smacking sound and her crying. It turns out that he found her pooping on the floor and he picked her up to put her on the potty so roughly that it left a red hand-shaped welt down her belly and onto her leg.

“I have told him repeatedly that he is too rough. I have shown him articles. I don’t know what else I can do to get him to change this behavior. There is a small part of me that worries he will become abusive like his father, but he has always agreed with me that spanking is not OK.

“Do you think these are early warning signs of abuse? Am I over reacting? How do I get through to him?”

You describe a normal toddler who has a rough, insensitive, and clueless-about-how-to- deal-with-toddlers father. Technically he is not abusive. However he definitely needs parenting classes to prevent problems by curbing the roughness and learning how best to handle children. These classes will help you as well. You may be overreacting to your husband’s roughness and letting your daughter get away with more than she should. Let me give you some tips now while you are finding suitable parenting classes.

How best handle a squirming toddler at diaper time? Distraction! Sing a little song or tell a special story about what your Mommy said when you wore diapers. Make the story so interesting she stops squirming to listen!

A toddler should not be able to get anywhere near a father who is sleeping during the day because of shift work. Lock the bedroom door and keep reminding the child about using her inside voice because Daddy is sleeping. This is called Preventing Problems.

Don’t yell or push a child away. Better to whisper so she will listen to what you have to say like: “No screaming.” “No hair pulling. If you do this once more you will go in your crib or time-out.” This is Parenting Smart Talk.

Is what the father does as described in this question child abuse? Child abuse is generally defined as an act committed by a parent of caregiver that results in physical injury to a child.

The American Humane Association defines child abuse as non-accidental trauma or physical injury caused by punching, beating, kicking, biting, burning or otherwise harming a child and physical abuse is the most visible form of child maltreatment.

The AHA adds, “Many times, physical abuse results from inappropriate or excessive physical discipline. A parent or caretaker in anger may be unaware of the magnitude of force with which he or she strikes the child.

“Other factors that can contribute to child abuse include parents’ immaturity, lack of parenting skills, poor childhood experiences and social isolation, as well as frequent crisis situations, drug or alcohol problems and domestic violence.”

So technically what this father did is not abuse but to my way of thinking it is perilously close because he made the child cry and left marks. He was also abused as a child. My way of “waking up” a parent who is treating a child roughly is to use a pencil to outline the child’s hand next to the parent’s hand so the parent (usually a father) can see the difference with his own eyes. The child cannot possibly hurt the father with that soft little hand but the father can sure inflict pain on the child with his hand.