What Should You Do if You Witness a Parent Verbally Abusing Her Child?

forlornAs a childcare provider, you will hopefully never witness the heartbreaking and infuriating image of a child being abused by her parents. Verbal abuse, while just as damaging as physical abuse, leaves no physical marks and is rarely followed up by a social services system that’s flooded with other issues. As a childcare provider, your job is to protect and care for the children under your charge. When it’s a parent who’s harming them, though, it’s not always easy to know what to do.

Attempt to Diffuse the Situation

Your first instinct in a family conflict is probably to pull away, as it’s an essential part of maintaining the boundaries of privacy and professionalism that keep a nanny/employer relationship running smoothly. When your charge is being subjected to abuse, however, it is your responsibility to make some effort to bring the abuse to a stop. Try to calmly, gently diffuse the situation without heightening your employer’s ire or making her feel as if you’re judging her for a lack of control. Defensiveness can make an angry person even more angry, and the child under your care will have to be left alone with his parents when it’s time for you to go home at the end of the day.

Avoid Exacerbating Your Employer’s Anger

While it may make you justifiably angry to see your employer verbally abusing her child, it’s important that you don’t react in a confrontational or aggressive manner. This is likely to only make the situation worse, making her more angry and leaving the bewildered child caught in the middle. Try to take a sympathetic tack, explaining that you understand how frustrating kids can be and that you’ll be more than happy to spend a bit of extra time with your charge so that your employer can have a bit of time to decompress. Unfortunately, many parents that are verbally abusive don’t realize how hurtful they are when they’re angry; this gentle reminder might bring her back down to reality without offending her and making things worse.

Understand the Law

Childcare providers are supposed to be the first line of defense against child abuse, reporting their reasonable suspicions to the proper authorities. In the case of verbal abuse, however, there’s likely to be little that you or a legal entity can do. The laws governing emotional abuse are vague or even non-existent in some states, making it difficult to prosecute or take legal action against a parent that says hurtful, hateful things to her child. However, should you suspect the child is being abused, it’s your responsibility to report the abuse.

Reassure the Child Whenever Possible

Bearing the brunt of a parent’s anger and being demeaned at every turn will almost certainly damage your charge’s self-esteem. If there’s nothing you can do to put an end to the abuse and no legal outlet that’s likely to bring him relief, the best thing you can do is be there for him and offer him plenty of reassurance. Talk about the ways that grown-ups get angry and say things they don’t mean, and take every opportunity to compliment him on a job well done.

Suggest Family Therapy

If you have a close enough relationship with your employer that you feel a suggestion of family therapy would be taken as the well-meaning gesture that it is, it may be a good idea to approach her with your concerns. If you have no close relationship or worry that such an intervention could make things worse for your charge, however, you’ll need to think more carefully about whether or not such a suggestion would actually help or cause more harm in the long run.

Contact a Professional for Assistance

If you feel that your charge is truly being harassed in a damaging manner, you can always call a social worker or even an attorney with experience in such areas under the cloak of anonymity. You’ll be able to get professional advice from someone who is better equipped to advise you, but you won’t be running the risk of leveling accusations of abuse at your employer.

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