There is a cultural belief in America that parents have the right to raise their children without any training, oversight or accountability. That is the very reason child abuse and neglect has been part of our country’s heritage from the very beginning. Children are at the total mercy of inexperienced parents, and for many reasons, they become the scapegoats for the ills of the family. I know because I was. And I ended up paying a terrible price for my parents’ behavior.
When we discuss family violence and violent behaviors, we are primarily talking about two areas:
- Psychological factors which include severe trauma such as emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse; an important early loss such as the loss of a parent; or neglect; and
- Environmental factors which include certain stressors such as divorce, living in poverty, and substance abuse by the person/person’s parents.
To strengthen families, it is important to address four areas:
- Attachment styles: See our blog titled Attachment and Children’s Mental Health
- Understanding age-appropriate child developmental tasks: It is critical that parents/caretakers understand the primary developmental tasks of children ages 1-3 which are: 1) To learn to trust, and 2) To learn to be their own person.
- Teaching critical thinking skills: Parents need to allow children to learn to label their own feelings, and to learn to make valid interpretations about what is happening to them and around them.
- Healthy expression of emotions: Children need to be taught to say “No” to behaviors they don’t like, and to channel their strong emotions in healthy ways with parental support. Too many times parents invalidate children’s feelings and actions without providing feedback or constructive criticism.
The underlying message is the need for mandatory parenting classes. We live in a world where people are required to have training and licenses to drive a car, for example, so that their uninformed behaviors won’t inadvertently hurt someone. Why isn’t this required for the care and development of totally helpless children?
Tens of millions of innocent children bear the brunt of this disastrous failure in public policy of not requiring all parents and caretakers to have some training. And the long-term effect of parental neglect, and too often cruel and faulty childrearing, is the criminal behavior we see in too many homes today. We need to speak up publicly and within our own homes to stop this horrendous behavior.