By: Maya Ragavan, MD, MPH, MS, FAAP & Kimberly Randell, MD, MSc, FAAP
We know that stress and conflict happen in relationships. This can sometimes include emotional, physical, sexual and financial abuse or controlling behaviors. Some parents report more violence in their relationships because of the
COVID-19 pandemic. Children may be experiencing more stress during these tense times, too, due to the pandemic and related challenges.
Here is some information that may be helpful to you, your family, your friends, or others in your community if you or someone you know are experiencing stress and violence at home.
How to support your child
We want to start with this: being a parent takes a huge amount of love and hard work. It is so important to remember that parents who experience violence do a great job caring for their children. But children can unfortunately experience stress when relationships are stressed.
Signs of stress can look different depending on the age of the child.
Babies may be fussy, have changes to their eating or sleep habits, or trouble learning to walk or speak.
Toddlers may have
tantrums , trouble learning new skills or difficulty sleeping.
Older children and
teenagers may be sad or irritable, worried all the time, not want to eat, have trouble sleeping or get stomachaches or headaches. Stress can show up in children in many other ways, too.
Some ways you can help your child cope when relationships are stressed:
Help your child develop
healthy routines, like reading before bedtime and eating breakfast and brushing their teeth in the morning.
Talk to your child about things they are happy about or thankful for. Do fun things with them and celebrate their accomplishments.
breathing with your child. In a safe space, help your child slowly take
deep breaths in and out to help them calm down.
Connect your child to programs and groups that help them find spaces to talk and connect with other young people and supportive adults.
Your pediatrician can help, too
Sometimes these strategies may not completely help take away your child's stress. If that happens, please remember that your pediatrician is
here to help you. If you are worried that your child is struggling with stress,
anxiety or fear, please speak with your child's doctor. After learning more about your child's symptoms, your child's doctor can work with you to make a plan and help find ways to support your child, including support services in your community.
Take care of yourself, too
As parents, we think so much about our children, but it's important to not forget about our own stress. In a place that feels safe, if possible, please take a few minutes each day to do something that is important and relaxing to you. It can be something like talking to a friend, reading a book, watching a funny video, breathing deeply or taking a walk or doing an exercise video. There are some mobile apps that can help remind and guide you to take moments to breath and relax.
Sometimes talking to other parents can help, too. Parenting resources, such as The National Parenting Helpline, (1-855-4A PARENT, open 10 AM to 7 PM Pacific Standard Time), provide confidential and free services. Your pediatrician may also know of other helplines or virtual parenting groups in your community.
Resources & safety
Pediatricians are here to help you and your family heal, thrive and connect with resources. Your pediatrician can connect you to a domestic violence services agency in your community. Many of these services remain open and available during the pandemic.
Domestic violence services agencies provide different support and resources, depending on what is most helpful to you. The National Domestic Hotline offers confidential and free services in multiple languages (https://www.thehotline.org/; 1-800-799-7233). You can call, text, or chat with trained professionals on their website, whatever feels safest to you.
When a parent is experiencing stress or violence in a relationship, they may not feel safe at home. As a parent, we know that your number one priority is keeping your child safe. If you are worried about your safety, or your child's safety, local victim services agencies can help.
If you, your family, your friends or anyone you know are experiencing stress or violence in their relationships, please know you are not alone. As pediatricians, we are grateful for the amazing work you are doing each day and are here to support you. Please reach out if and when it feels safe.
About Dr. Ragavan
Maya Ragavan, MD, MPH, MS, FAAP, is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh and a general pediatrician. For the past decade, she has been deeply dedicated to preventing parent violence and supporting families who have experienced partner violence. She believes strongly in creating safe, supportive, secure spaces within pediatric medical homes for all families. She has published over 20 articles on partner violence prevention and works with colleagues around the country to educate medical students and residents.
About Dr. Randell
Kimberly Randell, MD, MSc, FAAP, is a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Children's Mercy Kansas City and Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She is passionate about working within healthcare settings and together with community partners to prevent partner violence and to support families experiencing partner violence. She also works to educate medical trainees and colleagues on partner violence as a child health issue and is involved in ongoing research on this issue.