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Jul 29, 2008
Intervention in such difficult cases...
by: Darlene Barriere - Webmaster

Children of 6 or 7 internalize everything. When they see their parents in some form of distress, or they realize that their parent is angry at them for some reason, or when others berate their parents in front of them (the children), they believe they are responsible for it all: If I hadn't been bad, then Daddy wouldn't have had to hit me. OR If I hadn't been bad, then I wouldn't have made that lady yell at Daddy. And in ALL cases, It's all my fault. I'm bad.

Although the little girl may not have screamed out at you and pounded on your leg, begging you to stop, she was likely screaming in her mind, "Please don't hurt my Daddy. Stop yelling at him. I'll be good. I promise I'll be good." This is the nature of children. Furthermore, young children will ferociously protect their abuser(s). They do this for a number of reasons:
  1. They are wholly dependent on their abuser.
  2. They believe they themselves are responsible for the way the abuser is behaving. They believe their actions directly impact the actions of others.
  3. They lack the cognitive ability to reason out what is actually happening.
  4. Sometimes, besides 1, 2 and 3, it's because they also know that they will get much worse when they are behind closed doors with that parent; and they are attempting to smooth the waters beforehand.
The above is by no means a comprehensive list.

So how should one intervene in such cases?

It is imperative that we stay calm in these situations. Yes, that is an almost impossible task; but for the sake of the child who in turn is witnessing OUR behaviour toward his/her parent, we must stay on an even keel. Instead of an accusatory stance, consider approaching the parent using words of understanding, an approach that states the obvious: "I can see you're having a difficult time right now; is there something I can do to help?" or some such sympathetic or thoughtful statement. Your goal is to diffuse the situation at hand without name-calling or making the child feel further responsible, and keeping yourself and others safe at the same time. If at all possible, make note of the license plate of the car the parent and child go into so that you can report what you witnessed to the proper authorities and your local child protective agency. TIP: Sometimes, a parent's actions are caught on tape by supermarket security cameras, and end up on the nightly news in hopes of identifying the child and offending parent. I must also say, CPS or the equivalent, depending on where you live, are more likely to act when they believe the child is in immediate danger.

Your actions were noble, LG, and your intervention could very well have saved the child from further harm. Again, I commend you for stepping up. Too many adults don't.

Darlene Barriere
Violence & Abuse Prevention Educator
Author: On My Own Terms, A Memoir

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