Ways to prevent child abuse in schools

7,950

Dr Smaranika Tripathy
Consultant & Rehabilitation Psychologist, School Counselor & Soft Skill Trainer, Kolkata

Every child has the right to a full and productive life. It is up to all of us to ensure our children grow up in the environments that build confidence, friendship, security and happiness, irrespective their family circumstances or backgrounds. Keeping children safe from harm requires a vigilant and informed community.

To pave effective ways to prevent child abuse in schools, we need to set up a well vigilant and informed community that is confident in making judgments and assertive in taking actions. Additionally, schools and educational institutions have a great role to play in it as they not only render learning and education, but also ensure children’s safety and protection as priority. So, it is essential that parents, teachers and educators working with children and young people are able to understand the role each plays in protecting children.

Child abuse is more than bruises and broken bones. While physical abuse might be the most visible, other types of abuse, such as emotional abuse and neglect, also leave deep, lasting scars. Therefore, child protection policy must be based on the principle to ensure timely and effective intervention for children and young people who may be at risk of abuse or neglect. It is needless to say that the challenge of protecting children is everyone’s responsibility: parents, schools, communities and government. Everyone has a role to play in it.

The first step in helping child abuse or neglect is to learn and recognise the signs and signals first which may occur through criticising, rejecting, degrading, ignoring, isolating, corrupting, exploiting and terrorising a child. It may also result from exposure to family violence or involvement in illegal or anti-social activities. It is also important to know that emotional abuse is almost always present when other forms of abuse occur and the effects of this form of abuse are not always immediate or visible. The long-lasting effects of emotional abuse may only become evident as the child becomes older and begins to show difficult or disturbing behaviours or symptoms listed as follows.

  • Sudden changes in behaviour or school performance, learning problems (fear, withdrawal, depressed, anxious, difficulty concentrating, being absentminded and aloof) that cannot be attributed to specific physical or psychological causes.
  • Poor self-image, poor self-care, lack of confidence, low self esteem.
  • Shows extremes in behaviour, such as overly compliant or demanding behaviour, extreme passivity, or aggression.
  • Self conscious and is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen, shrinks at the approach of adults. Shows lack of attachments with others, poor peer relationships.
  • Is overly compliant, passive, or withdrawn, lack of interest in doing anything whether academic or non-academic tasks.
  • Displays attention seeking behaviours or displays extreme inhibition in play or shows behaviour that is inappropriate for age (too adult, too infantile).
  • Absenteeism and avoidance. Being fearful.
  • Destructive or anti-social behaviours related to conduct in school as well as at home, such as violence, cruelty, vandalism, stealing, cheating, lying, arguing or rejecting opinions or suggestions.
  • Sudden changes in the health conditions like eating disorder (lack of appetite, preoccupation with body), sudden weight loss. Disturbed sleep (nightmares, insomnia), etc.
  • Frequent psychosomatic complaints (for example, headaches, nausea, abdominal pains).

There are many issues that may contribute to child abuse, but some factors increase the risk to children and make them more vulnerable to abuse. They can be found in the background of parents, in the environmental situation and in attributes of the children themselves. These factors can be significant in alerting a bystander or family member to offer support to a family and keep a caring eye out. Sometimes lack of awareness and misconceptions also hinders in preventing and finding appropriate solutions to the concern which needs to be clarified as in the following points.

  • Child abuse does not necessarily involve violence or anger. Abuse often involves adults exploiting their power over children, and using children as objects for their own gratification rather than respecting their needs and rights as children.
  • Most children do not tell. Abusers can be very effective in making children too fearful to talk about what is going on. Often children do not have the words to use to let someone know what is happening to them.
  • Most children who have been abused by their parents still love their parents and want to remain living with them. What they really want is for the abuse to stop.
  • It is extremely common for children who have truthfully disclosed abuse to retract (take back what they have told) due to negative adult reactions to the disclosure of the abuse.
  • Children can sense what is going on may hear arguing and see the harm to people or property and are emotionally and psychologically affected by the behaviour of violent adults.
  • Children do not have the cognitive abilities to sustain stories of abuse that aren’t real.

Preventive measures

Proper talking: Talking to the children about age appropriate and accepted behaviour is important. Every child should know and understand their right to refuse and reject if someone’s behaviour or act creates hurt and pain to them physically, emotionally or psychologically. Teach children their rights. When children are taught they are special and have the right to be safe, they are less likely to think abuse is their fault, and more likely to report an offender.

Encourage and answer questions: Even if you feel it is least important, encourage and answer questions —many a time children suppress and fail to express emotional hurt which in other hand reflects in their action and behaviour emotionally and psychologically.

Avoid denial and remain calm: A common reaction to news as unpleasant and shocking as child abuse is denial. However, if you display denial to a child, or show shock or disgust at what they are saying, the child may be afraid to continue and will shut down. As hard as it may be, remain as calm and reassuring as you can.

Don’t interrupt or interrogate: Let the child explain to you in his/her own words what happened, but don’t interrogate the child or ask leading questions. This may confuse and fluster the child and make it harder for them to continue their story. It is important to pay attention to understand what the child is saying.

Understand the non-verbal quos: Sometimes it is necessary to observe the silence behind the child’s behaviour. They may fear of expressing or may become manipulating.

Be respectful: Giving respect to each other can help in better trust building and bonding between teacher and students.

Maintain confidentiality and privacy: Students should be given assurance for maintaining secrecy when it comes to their personal information and sharing. This helps in creating trust relationship.

Encourage them: Reassure the children that they did nothing wrong. It takes a lot for a child to come forward about abuse. Reassure him/her that you take what is said seriously, and that it is not the child’s fault.

Volunteering time: This is the time to be planned for listening and understanding the harm or difficulty of the students. Most of the time children don’t get or find a source to vent out their feelings of pain and harm. Many schools have specially defined classes included in the curriculum to discuss concerns which are bothering; for example, life skills and QCT (Quality Circle Time).

Establish connection and be empathetic: Being empathetic gives children reassurance that they are being heard. Sometimes only paying attention and showing concern can help children gain confidence and overcome their problems themselves.

Be supportive: Examine your behaviour for being a support to the child. Abuse is not just physical. Both words and actions can inflict deep, lasting wounds. Be a nurturing. Use actions to show children and other adults that conflicts can be settled without hitting or yelling.

Know the signs: Unexplained injuries aren’t the only signs of abuse. Depression, fear of a certain adult, difficulty trusting others or making friends, sudden changes in eating or sleeping patterns, inappropriate sexual behavior, poor hygiene, secrecy, and hostility are often signs of family problems and may indicate a child is being neglected or physically, sexually, or emotionally abused.

Educating all to work as a team: Simple support for children and parents can be the best way to prevent child abuse. After-school activities, parent education classes, mentoring programs, and respite care are some of the many ways to keep children safe from harm.

Report abuse: If you witness a child being harmed or see evidence of abuse, make a report to your state’s child protective service department or local police. When talking to a child about abuse, listen carefully, assure the child that he/she did the right thing by telling an adult, and affirm that he/she is not responsible for what happened.

Develop skills: While learning to control your emotions is critical, you also need a game plan of what you are going to do instead. Start by learning appropriate discipline techniques and how to set clear boundaries for your children. Child abuse awareness classes, books, and seminars are a way to get this information. You can also turn to other colleague for tips and advice.

Counseling: Giving support through counseling can enhance better problem solving and decision making in students.

Try expert approach: It is important to train general public, teachers and educators the ways to deal with children and start communication as not everyone should be allowed to discuss concerns with students as these being very sensitive issues which may hurt the child’s self respect and esteem.

Child abuse is a difficult subject that can be hard to accept and even harder to talk about. Taking proper steps can help in making a tremendous difference in the life of an abused child to stop the abuse early. When talking with the students, especially when with an abused child, the best thing you can provide is calm reassurance and unconditional support. Let your actions speak for you if you’re having trouble finding words. Remember that talking about abuse may be very difficult for the child. However, empathetic and comfortable approach of non-judgement and no criticism can be very helpful.

To pave effective ways to prevent child abuse in schools, we need to set up a well vigilant and informed community that is confident in making judgments and assertive in taking actions. Additionally, schools and educational institutions have a great role to play in it as they not only render learning and education, but also ensure children’s safety and protection as priority. So, it is essential that parents, teachers and educators working with children and young people are able to understand the role each plays in protecting children.

Child abuse is more than bruises and broken bones. While physical abuse might be the most visible, other types of abuse, such as emotional abuse and neglect, also leave deep, lasting scars. Therefore, child protection policy must be based on the principle to ensure timely and effective intervention for children and young people who may be at risk of abuse or neglect. It is needless to say that the challenge of protecting children is everyone’s responsibility: parents, schools, communities and government. Everyone has a role to play in it.

The first step in helping child abuse or neglect is to learn and recognise the signs and signals first which may occur through criticising, rejecting, degrading, ignoring, isolating, corrupting, exploiting and terrorising a child. It may also result from exposure to family violence or involvement in illegal or anti-social activities. It is also important to know that emotional abuse is almost always present when other forms of abuse occur and the effects of this form of abuse are not always immediate or visible. The long-lasting effects of emotional abuse may only become evident as the child becomes older and begins to show difficult or disturbing behaviours or symptoms listed as follows.

  • Sudden changes in behaviour or school performance, learning problems (fear, withdrawal, depressed, anxious, difficulty concentrating, being absentminded and aloof) that cannot be attributed to specific physical or psychological causes.
  • Poor self-image, poor self-care, lack of confidence, low self esteem.
  • Shows extremes in behaviour, such as overly compliant or demanding behaviour, extreme passivity, or aggression.
  • Self conscious and is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen, shrinks at the approach of adults. Shows lack of attachments with others, poor peer relationships.
  • Is overly compliant, passive, or withdrawn, lack of interest in doing anything whether academic or non-academic tasks.
  • Displays attention seeking behaviours or displays extreme inhibition in play or shows behaviour that is inappropriate for age (too adult, too infantile).
  • Absenteeism and avoidance. Being fearful.
  • Destructive or anti-social behaviours related to conduct in school as well as at home, such as violence, cruelty, vandalism, stealing, cheating, lying, arguing or rejecting opinions or suggestions.
  • Sudden changes in the health conditions like eating disorder (lack of appetite, preoccupation with body), sudden weight loss. Disturbed sleep (nightmares, insomnia), etc.
  • Frequent psychosomatic complaints (for example, headaches, nausea, abdominal pains).

There are many issues that may contribute to child abuse, but some factors increase the risk to children and make them more vulnerable to abuse. They can be found in the background of parents, in the environmental situation and in attributes of the children themselves. These factors can be significant in alerting a bystander or family member to offer support to a family and keep a caring eye out. Sometimes lack of awareness and misconceptions also hinders in preventing and finding appropriate solutions to the concern which needs to be clarified as in the following points.

  • Child abuse does not necessarily involve violence or anger. Abuse often involves adults exploiting their power over children, and using children as objects for their own gratification rather than respecting their needs and rights as children.
  • Most children do not tell. Abusers can be very effective in making children too fearful to talk about what is going on. Often children do not have the words to use to let someone know what is happening to them.
  • Most children who have been abused by their parents still love their parents and want to remain living with them. What they really want is for the abuse to stop.
  • It is extremely common for children who have truthfully disclosed abuse to retract (take back what they have told) due to negative adult reactions to the disclosure of the abuse.
  • Children can sense what is going on may hear arguing and see the harm to people or property and are emotionally and psychologically affected by the behaviour of violent adults.
  • Children do not have the cognitive abilities to sustain stories of abuse that aren’t real.

Preventive measures

Proper talking: Talking to the children about age appropriate and accepted behaviour is important. Every child should know and understand their right to refuse and reject if someone’s behaviour or act creates hurt and pain to them physically, emotionally or psychologically. Teach children their rights. When children are taught they are special and have the right to be safe, they are less likely to think abuse is their fault, and more likely to report an offender.

Encourage and answer questions: Even if you feel it is least important, encourage and answer questions —many a time children suppress and fail to express emotional hurt which in other hand reflects in their action and behaviour emotionally and psychologically.

Avoid denial and remain calm: A common reaction to news as unpleasant and shocking as child abuse is denial. However, if you display denial to a child, or show shock or disgust at what they are saying, the child may be afraid to continue and will shut down. As hard as it may be, remain as calm and reassuring as you can.

Don’t interrupt or interrogate: Let the child explain to you in his/her own words what happened, but don’t interrogate the child or ask leading questions. This may confuse and fluster the child and make it harder for them to continue their story. It is important to pay attention to understand what the child is saying.

Understand the non-verbal quos: Sometimes it is necessary to observe the silence behind the child’s behaviour. They may fear of expressing or may become manipulating.

Be respectful: Giving respect to each other can help in better trust building and bonding between teacher and students.

Maintain confidentiality and privacy: Students should be given assurance for maintaining secrecy when it comes to their personal information and sharing. This helps in creating trust relationship.

Encourage them: Reassure the children that they did nothing wrong. It takes a lot for a child to come forward about abuse. Reassure him/her that you take what is said seriously, and that it is not the child’s fault.

Volunteering time: This is the time to be planned for listening and understanding the harm or difficulty of the students. Most of the time children don’t get or find a source to vent out their feelings of pain and harm. Many schools have specially defined classes included in the curriculum to discuss concerns which are bothering; for example, life skills and QCT (Quality Circle Time).

Establish connection and be empathetic: Being empathetic gives children reassurance that they are being heard. Sometimes only paying attention and showing concern can help children gain confidence and overcome their problems themselves.

Be supportive: Examine your behaviour for being a support to the child. Abuse is not just physical. Both words and actions can inflict deep, lasting wounds. Be a nurturing. Use actions to show children and other adults that conflicts can be settled without hitting or yelling.

Know the signs: Unexplained injuries aren’t the only signs of abuse. Depression, fear of a certain adult, difficulty trusting others or making friends, sudden changes in eating or sleeping patterns, inappropriate sexual behavior, poor hygiene, secrecy, and hostility are often signs of family problems and may indicate a child is being neglected or physically, sexually, or emotionally abused.

Educating all to work as a team: Simple support for children and parents can be the best way to prevent child abuse. After-school activities, parent education classes, mentoring programs, and respite care are some of the many ways to keep children safe from harm.

Report abuse: If you witness a child being harmed or see evidence of abuse, make a report to your state’s child protective service department or local police. When talking to a child about abuse, listen carefully, assure the child that he/she did the right thing by telling an adult, and affirm that he/she is not responsible for what happened.

Develop skills: While learning to control your emotions is critical, you also need a game plan of what you are going to do instead. Start by learning appropriate discipline techniques and how to set clear boundaries for your children. Child abuse awareness classes, books, and seminars are a way to get this information. You can also turn to other colleague for tips and advice.

Counseling: Giving support through counseling can enhance better problem solving and decision making in students.

Try expert approach: It is important to train general public, teachers and educators the ways to deal with children and start communication as not everyone should be allowed to discuss concerns with students as these being very sensitive issues which may hurt the child’s self respect and esteem.

Child abuse is a difficult subject that can be hard to accept and even harder to talk about. Taking proper steps can help in making a tremendous difference in the life of an abused child to stop the abuse early. When talking with the students, especially when with an abused child, the best thing you can provide is calm reassurance and unconditional support. Let your actions speak for you if you’re having trouble finding words. Remember that talking about abuse may be very difficult for the child. However, empathetic and comfortable approach of non-judgement and no criticism can be very helpful.

Dr Smaranika Tripathy is a trained psychologist, school counselor and soft skill trainer, who specialises in child and adolescent behaviour and many other related activities. Her areas of specialties include dealing with behavioural problems, feeding disorders, addressing somatoform disorders in children, school avoidance and refusal. Her assessments and interventions consist of psychometric testing, individual/group/marital counseling, de-stressing, relaxation, anger management, etc. Dr Smaranika conducts training and workshops on time management, stress management, parenting styles and guidance, work psychology, communication skills, soft skill training (work life balance), among others.