You can take simple steps to protect your child from exploitation and child abuse, as well as prevent child abuse in your neighborhood or community. For example:
- Offer your child love and attention. If you feel overwhelmed or out of control, take a break. Don’t take out your anger on your child.
- Think supervision. Don’t leave young children home alone. In public, keep a close eye on your child. Don’t allow your child to go anywhere or accept anything without your permission. When your child is old enough to leave home without parental supervision, encourage your child to hang out with friends rather than alone — and to tell you where he or she is at all times.
- Know your child’s caregivers. Check references for baby sitters and other caregivers. Make unannounced visits to observe what’s happening.
- Emphasize the importance of saying no. Make sure your child understands that he or she doesn’t have to do anything that seems scary or uncomfortable. Encourage your child to leave a threatening or frightening situation immediately and seek help from a trusted adult. If something does happen, encourage your child to talk to you or another trusted adult about the episode. Assure your child that it’s OK to talk, and that he or she won’t get in trouble.
- Teach your child how to stay safe online. The Internet is a tremendous tool, but it’s important to use it safely. Cover ground rules such as not sharing personal information and not responding to inappropriate, hurtful or frightening messages. Don’t allow your child to share photos or videos online or arrange to meet an online contact in person without your permission. Consider it a red flag if your child is secretive about his or her online activities.
- Reach out. Meet the families in your neighborhood, including both parents and children. If a friend or neighbor seems to be struggling, offer to baby-sit or help in another way.
If you’re concerned that you might abuse your child, seek help immediately. Start with the Rappahannock Council on Domestic Violence 540.373.9373. They may offer a referral to a parent education class, counseling or a support group for parents. If you’re abusing alcohol or drugs, ask your doctor about treatment options. Remember, child abuse is preventable — and often a symptom of a problem that may be treatable. Ask for help today.