You can take simple steps to protect your child from exploitation and child abuse, as well as prevent child abuse in your neighborhood or community. For example:

  • Offer your child love and attention. Nurturing your child, listening and being involved in his or her life can develop trust and good communication. This encourages your child to tell you if there's a problem.
  • Don't respond in anger. If you feel overwhelmed or out of control, take a break. Don't take out your anger on your child. Talk with your doctor or therapist about ways you can learn to cope with stress and better interact with your child.
  • Think supervision. Don't leave young children home alone. In public, keep a close eye on your child. Volunteer at school and for activities so that you get to know the adults who spend time with your child. Don't allow your child to go anywhere or accept anything without your permission. When your child is old enough to leave home without parental supervision, encourage your child to stay away from strangers and to hang out with friends rather than alone — and to tell you where he or she is at all times. Make sure you know who is supervising your child when he or she is out of your care, such as at a sleepover.
  • Know your child's caregivers. Check references for baby sitters and other caregivers. Make irregular, but frequent, unannounced visits to observe what's happening. Don't ever allow substitutes for your usual child care provider if you don't know the substitute.
  • Emphasize the importance of saying no. Make sure your child understands that he or she doesn't have to do anything that seems scary or uncomfortable. Encourage your child to leave a threatening or frightening situation immediately and seek help from a trusted adult. If something does happen, encourage your child to talk to you or another trusted adult about the episode. Assure your child that it's OK to talk and that he or she won't get in trouble.
  • Teach your child how to stay safe online. Place the computer in a common area of your home. Use the parental controls to restrict the types of websites your child can visit, and check your child's privacy settings on social networking sites. Consider it a red flag if your child is secretive about online activities. Cover ground rules, such as not sharing personal information, not responding to inappropriate, hurtful or frightening messages, not sharing photos or videos online, and not arranging to meet an online contact in person without your permission. Tell your child to let you know if an unknown person makes contact through a social networking site. Report online harassment or inappropriate senders to your service provider and to local authorities, if necessary.
  • Reach out. Meet the families in your neighborhood, including both parents and children. Consider joining a parent support group so you have an appropriate place to vent your frustrations. If a friend or neighbor seems to be struggling, offer to baby-sit or help in another way.

If you worry that you might abuse your child

If you're concerned that you might abuse your child, seek help immediately, especially if you were abused as a child. If you were a victim of any type of child abuse, get counseling to assure you don't continue the abuse cycle or teach those destructive behaviors to your child. These organizations can provide information and referrals:

  • Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline: 800-4-A-CHILD (800-422-4453)
  • Prevent Child Abuse America: 800-CHILDREN (800-244-5373)

Or you can start by talking with your family doctor. He or she may offer a referral to a parent education class, counseling or a support group for parents to help you learn appropriate ways to deal with your anger. If you're abusing alcohol or drugs, ask your doctor about treatment options. Remember, child abuse is preventable — and often a symptom of a problem that may be treatable. Ask for help today.

Oct. 23, 2012