Listening to the Children
Every so often, I feel the need to share information on a difficult subject. As a mother, grandmother and survivor, child abuse is one of those subjects that I refuse to sweep under the rug.
Back in the 70's there was a sign I would see that said, "It shouldn't hurt to be a child." Today's guest, author Chynna Laird is speaking to this directly. After her post, learn about her new book, White Elephants, a memoir of her childhood.
Listen to the Children: How to Know When A Child Is Crying Out
April is an important month for several different awareness campaigns. There are a few that run during this month that are particularly close to my heart. One of them is Child Abuse Prevention.
There are so many movies, television programs, books and media coverage on this issue but, sadly, it still isn’t focused on or understood as much as it should be. Most of this is due to the fact that people tend to focus on what’s obvious—what they can see—such as bruises, burn marks, cuts or even overt behavior that points to possible abuse. What isn’t addressed nearly as much as it should be are the more ‘invisible’ types of abuse like sexual, verbal, emotional, psychological and even non-physical sexual abuse (the last category is when a child is exposed to pornographic materials, peeping, sexual innuendos or explicit displays or conversations about sex, etc.)
The most important thing I try telling people is that a child going through these things may not come right out and verbally tell you that something is going on but there are always signs to watch for. We need to listen to what they’re trying to tell us, even if there are no words.
You can see it in his face. Children who are abused aren’t happy. They don’t laugh and enjoy their youth the way other children do. Maybe he seems withdrawn or shy, often consumed with sadness or is ‘overly sensitive’. Or perhaps, he’s aggressive and destructive, doing everything he can to push others away. Another less obvious clue is the child trying a little to hard to tell you he’s doing okay by joking around or caring a little too much that he’s ‘doing good’. I was in the last category, often being told to calm down, slow down or stop doing so much.
She’s showing you in her play. A child who has endured abuse may not be able to say what’s going on, but they often transcend feelings, thoughts and emotions into play. Play is a powerful way to connect with children because it’s a ‘safe’ way to work things out without actually having to say anything. It’s why many therapists use it as a tool when working with younger children. Listen to how she plays with her dolls and what the toys say to each other. Watch how she gets the toys to interact with one another. Are they saying/doing things a child her age wouldn’t know about? If people had paid closer attention when I played with my Barbies as a little girl, they would have seen a lot.
She’s showing you in his school or art work. As with play, drawing or creative writing gives a child a way to express inner most thoughts and emotions. Using these tools he can talk about issues he has without actually having to shine the spotlight on himself. Are his stories violent or discuss subjects at a deeper level or understanding than his age? Are his drawings dark or explicit? My art teacher noticed that my pictures were often dark and my English teachers often praised how deep I could go emotionally in my essays. Neither took the time to dig deeper, though.
His curiosity level is different. All children are naturally curious about the world around them and the people in it. It’s how they learn. But when a child is abused, that natural curiosity gets distorted. He’ll either want nothing to do with things or people, not wanting to participate in conversation or inquire about things. Or he’ll be overly curious to the point of being invasive and what he’s asking about are subjects he shouldn’t be as curious as he should be for his age. I was usually much more on the introverted side but I did understand more than I should have for a younger person.
You can see it in the play partners she chooses. Most children, especially when they’re younger, will freely interact with and play with other children. Children who have been abused aren’t as open. If a child is on the introverted side, she’ll gravitate to children as equally as withdrawn or moreso that she is. This is a way of protecting herself from kids who are too friendly or too interactive for her comfort. On the other end of the scale, a child who is more overt will gravitate to kids as equally as aggressive or gregarious or more so than she is. That way she won’t stand out or have to deal with the touchy-feely stuff she isn’t comfortable with. In either case, kids will stay in the ‘play alongside’ stage rather than ‘play with’ stage. I always chose friends who stood out more than I did. I often hid.
There are many signs and symptoms to watch for, many listed on the Abuse Prevention websites. But these are five of the less obvious things to watch for.
Always take the time to listen to a child, even if the words are silent. I wished I had been heard when I when I was younger. But what I learned from back then will, hopefully, help another child today. Now, my heart is fine-tuned to hear even the most hidden cries.
For more information on Child Abuse Prevention Month, check out the Child Welfare Information Gateway or Prevent Child Abuse
Chynna Laird has been a guest her before. In her new book, White Elephants, she sensitively shares the story of her past - a past that I could relate to on many levels. I won't sugar-coat it - this is a tough memoir to read, but in reading it, I found peace.
Chynna is a psychology major, freelance writer and multi award-winning author living in Edmonton, Alberta with her partner, Steve, and their three daughters [Jaimie (almost nine), Jordhan (six), and baby Sophie (three)] and baby boy, Xander (five). Her passion is helping children and families living with Sensory Processing Disorder and other special needs.
You’ll find her work in many online and in-print parenting, inspirational, Christian and writing publications in Canada, United States, Australia, and Britain. In addition, she’s authored an award-winning children’s book (I’m Not Weird, I Have SPD), two memoirs (the multi award-winning, Not Just Spirited: A Mom’s Sensational Journey With SPD and White Elephants), a Young Adult novel (Blackbird Flies), an adult Suspense/Thriller (Out Of Sync to be released March 2012), and a Young Adult Suspense/Mystery/Paranormal/Sweet Romance (Undertow, to be released 2012).
She’s also working on a sequel to Not Just Spirited called Not Just Spirited: The Journey Continues and a few other projects in the works for Middle Grade and Young Adult readers. Please visit Chynna’s website at www.chynna-laird-author.com, as well as her blogs at www.the-gift-blog.com and www.seethewhiteelephants.com, to get a feel for her work and what inspires her.