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Helping Parents and Children in Difficult Situations
Authors: Saraswathy Ramamoorthy with Judith A. Myers-Walls, Ph.D., CFLE

At times, you may see parents behaving in inappropriate ways with their children. However, the behavior may not exactly be classified as abuse. Some examples of this kind of behavior that is wrong but not exactly abuse may be:

     • A parent yelling or shouting at a child in public
     • A parent losing control and hitting a child
     • A parent shaking, pulling or dragging a child in frustration

You may be confused about what to do in such situations. You may be confused about your responsibility towards the child. You may not know if you should get involved or not. You may want to help the parent and child rather than report them. All families face hardships. There are times when parents and children struggle with difficult situations and with each other. There are many times when parents are stressed out and tired. These are the times when they are more likely to lose control of themselves and treat their children badly. There are many things that you can do to help the parent and the child in such tough situations:

     • Model appropriate behavior to the parent. When a tired and stressed parent is treating a child roughly, you can offer to help. For example- if the parent is getting angry with the child because she is very slow at putting on her shoes, you could say to her kindly, “Is there anything I can do to help? I can help Marie get her shoes on.” This will help the parent realize that she is being unreasonable in her behavior. It is possible that the parent may refuse your help. But she will still know that you tried to help.

     • Say something positive about the child. You could share with the parent something positive about the child. For example you might say, “Rick was a very good helper today. He helped me set up snack so nicely.” You could also try sharing with the parent something that the child worked on or did that day. For example, “Jose' worked very hard with the blocks today and built a big stable for the horses.” This takes the parent mind off the stress. It also focuses on the positive side of the child.

     • Divert the child’s attention if she is misbehaving. If the child is acting out and creating a stressful situation for the parent, you can try distracting her. You could remind the child about some fun activity or event that she participated in that day. You could ask her to tell her parent about it. You could also divert her attention by saying, for example, “Wow! Look at that car on your shirt. Who’s that sitting in it?” This will help to distract the child from her tantrum and help her focus on something else.

     • Sympathize with the parent and child. You could say something kind like, “It looks like you have both had a long and hard day. You really need some rest now.” This helps the parent understand the real reason for their stress. It will help them realize that the child is not the cause for their tiredness or tension.

In this way, you can help change a situation where there is a possibility for a child to be treated roughly by his parents.

Go to:  • Talking to a child who has been abused
           • Talking to parents about child abuse

For more information, contact Judith A. Myers-Walls, PhD, CFLE at

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  any of these materials as long as the original credits remain intact.

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