Angela Chintis teaches the nurturing parenting series at Casa de los Niños. Previously she trained prospective foster and adoptive parents for Arizona’s Children Association.
Here, she discusses child abuse and parenting.
What are the common misconceptions about parenting?
So many factors drive a child’s behavior, from normal child development, to a need for attention or control, to simply responding to the behaviors of their parents. Oftentimes, parents attribute ulterior and more devious and calculated motives to their children’s behavior, forgetting that they are not smaller versions of adults, but adults-in-training, who don’t quite have the mental or emotional capabilities to make the best choices.
What about spanking?
Spanking, while seemingly immediately effective at stopping a behavior, has no proven long-term teaching impact.
Children are concrete thinkers. When another person hits them because of their behavior, a child learns very simply, “When I do X, I get hit.” They don’t innately understand why, even if it’s followed up by a lecture. Unfortunately, that has next to no relevance to real life.
In the real world, there is not someone there to hit us for every thing we do wrong. Spanking, or other forms of punishment, teach children that their actions are only unacceptable if that person who doesn’t like it is around to hit them. It does not teach children how to stop their own behavior or make their own choices about right and wrong.
The purpose of raising a child should never be to teach them who’s the boss, but to build a relationship of mutual respect . A child who respects you wants to do the right thing; a child who fears you must do the right thing.
What are the most important things we can do for our children?
One of the most important things we can do for our kids is to not forget what it is like to be a child. To be empathetic to their needs and struggles. To work hard at understanding why they do what they do and respond appropriately.
The best parents work tirelessly to give their kids the benefit of the doubt, to approach even the firmest of discipline with love and acceptance of the child, to show their kids they matter through words and actions, and to always follow through on promised consequences. They are clear in their expectations, accepting of mistakes, role model and guide good choices, and work on fostering the long-term relationship.
What is most challenging about your work?
It’s sometimes hard for parents to see that coming to a class isn’t an admission of bad parenting, rather a place to be validated and get support for what they’re already doing well, discover new ways to approach old problems, and simply add to their toolbox. Children’s needs are complex and we can never have too many tools, or too much information on what makes kids tick.
What is most rewarding?
Most good parents already possess the tools and knowledge needed to be great parents. They just sometimes need a nudge in the right direction, an affirmation from another parent, or a new way of defining the problem.
I find it so rewarding when a parent reports that (he or she) had success using something we discussed in class the previous week. Knowing that a child’s day has been made more pleasant because their parent took the time to understand what (he or she) needed and responded appropriately — that is my biggest reward.
Why do people abuse?
There is not a definitive line that divides abusers and non-abusers. There are predictors of abusive personalities, but they don’t explain someone who possesses those traits then goes on to not abuse their child.
I believe there is a tipping point, different for each person, where that ambiguous line gets crossed. Let’s say you have a mom who was a victim of child abuse, is single, unemployed, has a 10th-grade education, and has a toddler and a colicky baby. All of these things increase the risk that she’ll abuse her own child.
Maybe she has one positive piece to her story that helps her overcome those risks. Maybe she has an amazing support system that allows her to have respite from these stressors and make better parenting choices.
But remove that support system, or add even one more negative factor to her life, and that one thing seems to tip the scale and her ability to cope with those multiple stressors is diminished.