Speaking out about child abuse and trauma is one of the most powerful steps a person can take in their journey towards healing. Entering into discussions about abuse on the community level contributes to the validation and legitimization of the experiences of those affected while also raising awareness to bring about change and prevention. Speaking out about these tremendously difficult and terrifying experiences is challenging and those who do speak up are incredibly brave. When we engage in this dialogue, we give our support to survivors but we also open ourselves up to painful emotions, which is why it is important to take care of ourselves. I want to contribute to National Child Abuse Prevention Month by getting counselors, community members, and anyone involved in this issue to take care of ourselves so that we can keep talking and advocating with passion and empathy.
In the counseling field when we talk about taking care of ourselves we are talking about self-care. Self-care is about being mindful of the ways that challenging life experiences and stressors impact our physical, mental, and emotional health. Self- care addresses how to feel valued and meet our needs before, during, and after those experiences. Coping with stress is very challenging and it takes awareness and experimentation, but as we practice self-care, we start to notice the benefits. Engaging in self-care helps you feel healthier and more available to cope with stress. It also helps you to be more present with loved ones and able to give of yourself to others who need you. In the Family Support and Counseling Program we work with clients on self-care because it benefits the client and their family. As counselors we work on self-care because it helps us to be fully present with clients. We also raise awareness about self-care through trainings and workshops.
Later this month, I will be attending the New York State Conference on Child Abuse Prevention. As part of the conference, I will be leading a workshop for mental health professionals on the importance of self-care when working with families affected by child abuse and trauma. I will have the opportunity to educate others on the benefits of self-care and help providers and community agencies increase their ability to provide staff support. I am grateful to have this opportunity because I know it will assist counselors and their clients when working on recovering from trauma and preventing future instances of abuse. I also believe it will help all those who enter the conversation on abuse and prevention keep talking and healing together.
Alicia Leporati, LMHC
Someone once told me that parents hit their children when they don’t know what else to do. A child of immigrants, I immediately understood that statement. Parents, who are disenfranchised, or have less resources at their disposal, are more likely to become frustrated and then lose control when disciplining their children. The Early Support for Lifelong Success PLUS (ESLS) program at The Family Center (TFC) provides parents with the skills to use when they feel stressed and overwhelmed. The best way to prevent child abuse is to empower parents, and help them build their confidence as mothers, fathers and caregivers.
To help parents develop parenting skills and to build community among them, ESLS invites Brooklyn families with young children to join us for activities such as Sign-A-Song, Only Make Believe, and Project Sunshine.
In these groups parents and children are encouraged to sing, dance, be creative and have fun! In Sign-A-Song, parents may learn a song that they would like to utilize outside of group, because, for example, it encourages their child to clean up. A parent can take this new tool, and employ it when s/he is having challenges keeping their home tidy. This will help their child understand what is wanted from them and prevent frustration. Simple skills, like using a routine song to reflect a child’s scheduled activity, can reduce parental frustration and reduce the risk of abuse.
Most importantly, groups such as Sign-A-Song provide a safe space for parent and child to enjoy each other and create a strong bond through shared experiences. Personally, I think the greatest benefit is that parents enjoy spending time with their children. Led by staff who aren’t afraid to be silly and play along, we make it easy for parents to feel comfortable jumping around with their children. The greatest protective factor is a parent who genuinely enjoys his/ her child. The Family Center’s ESLS groups rekindle the fun in parenting.