On several occasions, I have had parents bring me their children because they were concerned that they were being abused.
Usually, they are looking for physical evidence of assault. However, child abuse goes beyond the physical. It can be mental and emotional as well.
We leave our children in the care of many (nanny, teachers, relatives, friends and neighbours) and it is important to be able to recognise when something may be going wrong with your child.
This is relatively easy to detect as most of the time, the child carries visible bruises, scars and fractures (broken bones) as a result. The average child may get the odd fracture once in a while (especially if they are very active and sporty).
However, a child who keeps breaking his bones is likely to be a victim of abuse and is not just clumsy. Similarly, fractures, bruises and burns in babies who have not started walking are a red flag for abuse and must be fully investigated.
Rape and sodomy are obvious forms of sexual abuse. However, other forms of child sexual abuse exist. This includes making a child watch sexual acts (including masturbation and pornography), making lactating babies suck on other people’s breasts to give them sexual pleasure and oral/manual sexual acts. The last three are not easy to prove as they often do not leave evidence of the act.
Sadly, this is the most common form of abuse unknowingly carried out by parents to their children.
Telling children degrading things and putting them down for their weakness used to be thought of as a way of ‘hardening a child’ for the challenges of the future but it has since been found to be counter-productive.
Passive emotional abuse: could you be guilty?
Passive emotional abuse happens when a parent denies a child the love and care they need in order to be healthy and happy.
This happens when the parent is emotionally unavailable due to work or other circumstances in their life. They often fail to offer their child support, praise and encouragement on a daily basis.
The other extreme in this category is the over-protective parent who limits the child’s opportunity to explore, learn and make friends. Some in this category even expect the child to meet the parent’s own emotional needs (which is simply not possible).
Parents are the best ‘detectives’
When a parent suspects that their child is being abused, they tend to rush to the doctor to get the truth behind the goings-on in the child’s life.
Although, the doctor must be involved in all cases of abuse, you need to first do your part.
The doctor is a stranger to the child and most of the time the child will feel either intimidated or ashamed to talk about their ordeal to someone who they do not trust or have a rapport with.
Before you go to hospital, talk to your child. Try and get them to give you as much information as possible about what has been going on in their lives. This makes it easier for the child and the doctor when you take them to hospital.
Post-abuse emotional care
Most parents and health care providers tend to focus a lot on an abused child’s physical welfare and tend to forget that the mental health must be catered to as well.
All children who have been abused must be assessed by a child psychiatrist/psychologist/counsellor to ensure that the child is well-equipped to deal with the emotional baggage that comes with abuse.
Remember, abused children, just like soldiers at war, can get post-traumatic stress disorder and need to be able to deal with it. This will prevent a lot of psychological issues in adulthood.
This article was first published in the Business Daily.