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VIOLENCE RESEARCH

Providing healthy relationships prevents child abuse

By Steve Baron

Surrounding children with healthy relationships throughout their childhood not only prevents child abuse and neglect while enhancing healthy childhood development and resiliency, but also provides long-term prevention of domestic, family, school and criminal violence.

But what constitutes healthy relationships? The child doing the voiceover in a Santa Clara Child Abuse Prevention Council public service announcement at www.cacscc.org defines them very simply as being “…emotionally and physically safe, respectful, caring, and never, ever, violent or abusive,” because, the child adds, “violence always hurts us.”

How does it hurt children and their long term healthy development? A video (https://bayareane. ws/2H2dyZD) produced for the state Attorney General’s office, “First Impressions: Exposure to Violence and a Child’s Developing Brain,” speaks to the risks: It cautions, “The younger you are, the more spongelike your brain is. The very same biological sponginess that allows us to rapidly acquire language also makes children more vulnerable to trauma.”

The Santa Clara County child featured in the public service announcement knows that “healthy relationships help us grow to be happy, healthy, strong, kind, and productive.

“Listening and understanding” creates a win for the child and the community.

Hundreds of studies, including those by the likes of Harvard University, Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control Neuroscience, demonstrate that providing children with healthy, caring, supportive, violence-and-abuse-free relationships at home, school, and elsewhere dramatically raises the odds of their experiencing emotional, behavioral, cognitive, social, and physical health throughout their childhood and adulthood. Resilient children are more capable of surviving the inevitable knock downs and losses of life, getting back up, recovering, and going on to lead full, constructive and meaningful lives.

Do you want to prevent violence? Surround children with healthy relationships. Work to reduce poverty. Provide early identification and effective intervention for victim/survivors of abuse, neglect, mental illness, and serious trauma. And keep guns out of the hands of those whose behavior signals serious instability or threat. Those steps will take care of the bulk of it.

Some fear that raising kids to be too nice, caring and empathetic will result in raising a generation of naïve and vulnerable individuals just waiting to be taken advantage of and victimized by those who think empathy is to be used solely for the purpose of manipulation, exploitation and domination. It’s a valid concern. But treating people with respect, understanding, and empathy is, in fact, compatible with possessing a healthy degree of vigilance, learning the warning signs of predators, abusers, and con people, and setting and enforcing healthy boundaries. We can teach are children to be trusting, respectful individuals while also teaching them to be appropriately assertive, refusing to tolerate abusive behavior, defending oneself and others when necessary, and pursuing healthy self-interest without exploiting others. We have to model and teach the whole package.

Some of our political leaders could benefit by taking to heart this approach. The benefits might trickle down to more of us in the form of healthier role modeling, community, and governmental functioning.

It’s good to remember the fundamentals: listening and understanding.

Steve Baron is vice chair of programs for the Child Abuse Prevention Council of Santa Clara County.

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