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Help protect children and families this holiday season

The holidays are again upon us. This week we’ll celebrate Thanksgiving, and soon, Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa. Times for family, friends, food, gifts and celebration for most of us. But for those affected by violence, abuse, neglect, addictions and mental health challenges, the usually cheerful season is a little different.

Happiness can be overshadowed by fear, uncertainty, depression and the many consequences of addiction. For too many, an already bad situation spirals into despair. Even for people who have not been exposed to trauma, the holidays can be a stressful time.

The reasons are many—time off school exposes children to a variety of risk factors; stress increases the likelihood of angry outbursts and episodes of violence; financial difficulties from buying gifts and travel add even more stress and pressure. Shorter days and a lack of sunlight in winter can also trigger bouts of anxiety, loneliness and depression.

A 2015 poll on holiday stress conducted by the website Healthline.com found that 62% of Americans experience stress during the holiday season.

There are so many triggers in play that it’s critical we be vigilant this time of year – even more so than every day – to indicators of abuse or neglect, bouts of anger and emotional distress that may signal that someone we know and care about needs our help.

Here are some helpful tips to help parents keep their cool this winter:

  • It can be difficult to listen to a child cry; however, shaking or harming a child is never the answer.
  • When you are upset with your child, give yourself some time and space. Take a break and walk away if necessary. You can re-engage with your child once you are calm.
  • It is okay to leave your child in a crib or other safe place for a short period of time while you regroup.
  • Use your support network when you are feeling stressed. Talk to someone you trust for advice, or just to express your feelings.
  • Take care of yourself. Find time for activities that support your physical and emotional health.
  • Keep calm. Remember that children learn to manage their feelings by watching the adults around them. If you remain calm, they will be more likely to stay calm.

If you suspect or witness abuse:

  • Document the situation and report it to the state’s child welfare agency. In Kentucky, you can call the Cabinet for Health and Family Services at 1-877-597-2331. In Indiana, contact the Department of Child Services at 1-800-800-5556.
  • If you are close with the caregiver, and it is safe to do so, attempt to de-escalate a potentially harmful situation. Offer to help in a kind and non-judgmental manner.
  • Call 911 if you believe someone in immediate danger.

We all have a role in helping make the holidays the best and most enjoyable season possible, so let’s do our best to reduce risk and protect children and families around the holidays, and every day of the year.

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