The most chilling sounds one can hear are the sounds of a child screaming at the top of their lungs in pain, pleading for someone to stop hurting him or her. Last night, while at my computer, I thought I heard screaming voices. At first, I thought that it might be a cat or some other animal. Then I thought that it might have been someone’s television. The screams stopped, and I was relieved slightly. But then it started again.
As those sounds continued to haunt me, I turned down the volume on my own television, actually muted the volume, and it became clear to me that this was a child. That child was screaming out for help. I could only imagine the pain, the torture experienced by this little one.
What was worse was that I thought that I may have heard these sounds some time before.
How could I ignore it? The cries were torturous, and I wanted them to stop. I thought about getting into my car and driving around the corner to see which house those sounds were coming from. They were certainly coming from the next block from me.
I thought about calling 911, but wasn’t sure of the home address. I felt like crying myself. Perhaps this child had misbehaved in some way, failed to put the toys away, or refused to go to sleep at bedtime. It doesn’t matter what that child did or didn’t do, no parent or adult should ever hit a child in such ways as to cause this child to cry out so desperately. It just tore through me.
We know that parents have different ideas about how they discipline their children, and that is just fine. Although I never spanked or hit my children, I would occasionally threaten to ‘pop’ them when they were little. In fact, they tease me about those words, “I’ll pop you.” to this day. Nonetheless, they were never hit. Violence is like a contagion. When we demonstrate violence, or are surrounded by violence, we are more likely to spread violence as a means of settling problems and/or conflict. Worse yet is when violence becomes a go-to or an acceptable form of discipline. IT IS NEVER ACCEPTABLE.
Most often, spanking is used as a form of discipline or correcting bad unacceptable behaviors as a strategy of last resort. It is a last resort strategy to rearing children that should never be utilized. There are a myriad of strategies that can be useful to parents, and they don’t involve physical violence, spanking, beating, whipping or anything of the sort.
No matter what we call it when we hit children, it is a form of bullying-an imbalance of power. We, as adults, know very well that we possess the power in parent-child relationships. Children know it, want and need it to be that way. They need rules, structure, routines, and an understanding of behaviors and consequences. Actually, they come to learn this early on in the growing years-from infancy. As parents, our job is to place reason for these things into their consciousness, according to age and developmental level. This process does not need to involve anything resembling physical violence.
Some parents do spank their children in order that they comply with demands and expectations. Spanking is used as a means of showing disapproval for disobedience. That is unacceptable to me, but I do understand cultural differences and individual choices as adults. I get it! Parents want to let it be known and have it understood that they are the boss in their homes, and children must obey and understand that.
What parents may fail to realize is that children do understand these things. They are, after all, fully dependent upon us for their basic needs and survival. With that said, the role of a child, developmentally, is to disrupt, misbehave, disobey, and challenge our ability to keep it together amidst all that they present to us. We are their role models for life. We want to keep them safe from harm. Sometimes, though, with the best of intentions, we are the ones subjecting them to harm.
Instead of reactionary hitting your children when they misbehave, gather your patience and self-discipline first. Think about what you’re about to do, and then consider that child. Ask yourself whether your expectations match your child’s ability to fully understand the rules. Ask yourself whether you have been giving your child the attention he or she feels she needs. Try to consider whether your child is sending a message to you, however inappropriate it may be, and then maybe it is something else. Whatever your child may do, it could just be that he or she is doing their job-being a child. So, maybe it is okay to give him or her an hour more as bedtime. Most likely, there is no early school or work. What would that hurt to give in just once?
It behooves all parents, particularly now, during this shelter in place environment, to keep it together for ourselves and our children. They couldn’t have possibly had any influence on this situation, they didn’t cause it, and they can’t be held to standards more rigid or beyond their capacity. We are all cooped up inside. It is frustrating. Some have lost their jobs and some are placed on hiatus from work. That is an adult matter.
Under normal circumstances, we would almost literally ‘kill’ someone, anyone, who would put their hands on our child. Not teachers, when they mean well, not doctors, not friends in the playground, not relatives or clergymen. Don’t let it be the very persons whom they look to for safety, unconditional love and acceptance. There can be a fuzzy line between discipline and abuse. What I heard last night were the cries of a child being abused.
If what I heard describes some of the sounds that can be heard from your house, it’s not too late to do better, be better-you and your child. At this very minute, go and tell your child that you love him or her. Tell your child that you apologize for hurting him so badly. Tell him that it was inexcusable and that you will never do that again. Again, tell your child that you love him or her very much.
Then, tell that child why you became so upset. Tell him that there was something that he may have done that upset and disappointed you. Tell him that what you did was inexcusable and you want to be forgiven. Your child is good, and wants to do good at all times, too. But, your child is still just a child.
Children will break rules, misbehave, giggle when they should be quiet, pass notes in church, try to get out of a chore. But didn’t you? If your answer is a ‘no’, then you aren’t being honest with yourself. That is the job of a child-test boundaries, see how far they can go, miss curfew, all of these things.
We want to look back on childhood and laugh at the mishaps and mistakes, and thank God that we made it through with minimal harm. Children are a handful, I know. Some are more challenging than others. That is just built into the contract of being a parent. Expect hard times and challenges to your patience and restraint. Make a vow to yourself that you won’t take frustrations out on your child or any child. You will be mindful and patient with them.
Reflect on what is happening in your own adult life. The emotions felt regarding your situation need not be displaced. They love us. When we hurt, they hurt and also get confused. Likewise, when they hurt, we hurt. Just do not hurt them in ways that might mimic your childhood, and if not, please don’t start a new tradition. Children should demonstrate a healthy fear of their parents. That is called, ‘respect’.
If this is an ongoing occurrence, please stop and get help. Talk to a friend, or a professional. Seek new and different ways to show your disappointment, teach responsibilities, protect children from harm. Just do not bring your issues and lay them before your child.
Fortunately, children are very forgiving and resilient. We all are prone to anger, from time to time. Learn how to channel that anger and express it in positive ways.
TALK, BE HONEST, SPEAK YOUR TRUTHS. It is my sincere hope that the child heard last night, will be fine. I pray that the person who abused that child last night or at any other time, recognizes that error in judgment. There are far better ways to teach children right and wrong. Talk. Preach if you have to do so. Just do not hit, please. What could possibly prevent us from coming eye to eye with a child and having a conversation?
If I hear those sounds again, I will certainly begin knocking on doors until they stop, in hopes that it won’t be too late. Who knows what I will be confronted with in doing so, but that child and all others, are worth my efforts. If my actions do nothing more than give that child a moment’s reprieve from the torture, I will be able to say that I was a small part of the solution. Social distancing is one thing, but child abuse should motivate every one of us to break those rules and save a child’s life. A parent’s life, too. Wouldn’t you?