Provided by Spirit Lake Consulting, Inc.
"Making life better"

    When infants are awake, as Ronda pointed out, their two main activities are eating and crying. Because infants are growing at such a phenomenal rate, they do need to eat all of the time - eight to fourteen times a day. Because infants wake up several times a day AND need to eat many times a day AND because their crying literally demands attention, the normal infant can leave parents exhausted. Think for a moment of the state of the parents. They are sleep-deprived, constantly interrupted by demands of the infant to be fed immediately, to be changed, to be made warmer or cooler. Which parents would be most likely to abuse their children? Before you protest - but it's a baby! - consider a few facts:

If someone else (other than a baby), woke you up several times a night, and urinated on you, you would either have them arrested or punch them in the nose. What if your fourteen-year-old son did these things? You would still be pretty likely to punish him harshly, right? At some age, however, we believe that such behavior is okay. If you had the (mistaken) idea that by six months or eight months babies should be sleeping through the night, or that you could teach a baby to sleep through the night, then you might have a different view.

Risk factor # 1: Lack of knowledge of normal child development.

If you read Alice in Wonderland, you might remember this poem:

Speak harshly to your little boy
And beat him when he sneezes
He only does it to annoy 
And because he knows it teases

The cook, who recited this poem, was definitely one we would consider at risk for child abuse.

Risk factor # 2: Lack of social support.

    A formerly very good teacher and dean of a College of Education once commented to me that he was so tired of people who wanted to go in to teaching because they "loved children" and yet were unwilling to admit the fact that there will be some days when they just hate the thought of looking at their little faces for even one more second. His point was, that no matter how wonderful you are, no matter how much you love children, there will be some days when you have HAD IT! People burn out; they need a break, a full night's sleep, a moment to relax. Single parents, whether male or female, are more likely to abuse their children than parents who are married. If you have ever had children of your own, you are no doubt well aware of the fact that there are days when you JUST CAN'T TAKE IT ANY MORE!!! At such times, it is a huge help if you have a spouse, or other person, be it a grandmother or next-door neighbor, with whom you can leave the child for a short time while you calm down. For some reason - strong Catholicism, lack of family planning or temporary insanity - I had my first three children within a span of four years. I was fortunate enough to have a husband who had a fairly good income, but that meant he often worked twelve or fourteen hour days, during which I had to get my reading and course assignments done (oh, yes, I was also doing my doctoral work at this time), feed, bathe and entertain the children, clean up the house, etc. There were days when he would walk in the door and I would hand him a baby I was carrying on each arm and say, "Take them, they are yours for the next hour, I am going out for a cup of coffee." What if there was no one else to hand them off to?

Cute, aren't they? You try taking care of an eight-month old and twenty-month-old for fourteen hours a day! And one more point about social support - do you remember behaviorism - the idea that behavior is determined through a system of rewards and punishments? Children are not particularly appreciative by nature. As you will learn in subsequent sections on cognitive development, children tend to be very egocentric, they EXPECT the world to revolve around them. Who is more likely than the child's father to reinforce and praise the mother for all of the work that she does? Michael Lamb, editor of the book The father's role in child development commented that one of the most important effects that fathers have might be indirect, as a source of support for the mother.

 I recommend you put this number in your notes for future reference in case
you need to give it to someone some day (or maybe even need to call it yourself).

Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-SOS-CHILD OR 1-888-767-2245
This line is answered by Child Protective Service 24-hours-a-day.

I actually know that this line is answered 24 hours a day because I called them at 10:30 one Sunday night just to check (I didn't want to give students any information I had not verified). Not only did someone answer the phone, but the nice person was quite skeptical about my explanation that I was neither a victim of child abuse nor on the verge of abusing my children but just checking them out for a developmental psychology course. He told me a couple of times that they did have licensed counselors and psychologists who would be happy to talk to me right then, or I could call back any time I needed to talk! Now, do you appreciate all of the work I go to for my students or what?

Risk factor # 3: Adolescent Mothers

Having three children, aged 11, 12 and 15 years when the new baby was born has given me grave concern about any child born to an adolescent mother. My children are as good as can reasonably be expected, and, yet, not one of them can manage to take care of the baby for more than a couple of hours without calling me, wherever I might happen to be, to "COME TAKE THIS BABY"! Emotionally, the average adolescent is just developing an identity, figuring out what he or she wants to do in life, what values are important, and so on. Being prepared to pass on those values to another person is a developmental task that usually comes much later in life. The maturity to put someone else's needs before your own, to control your temper, to plan ahead to be sure that whatever the baby might need is provided -- all of these characteristics develop throughout adolescence and early adulthood. My children frequently whine, "Why can't she just be quiet?" or "What about what I want?" None of them have ever actually physically abused the baby (as proof, there is the fact that they are all still alive), but they have stalked into my room in tears, plopped Julia on the bed and burst out, "I can't take it any more! I fed her, changed her, gave her a bath, walked her, and she just won't stop crying!" In addition to emotional immaturity, including frustration tolerance, patience and all of those other qualities which are supposed to improve with age, adolescents also have to cope with lack of experience and cognitive immaturity. An adult (me, for example) might have thought of a few other possibilities, such as putting orajel on her for teething, putting her in her swing (maybe she's tired and can't get to sleep), etc. When I see the difficulty my children have coping with a baby, and they only have to deal with her for a few hours at a time, with no other problems in their lives, then I really fear for the children of the average teenage mother. Perhaps that is a really politically incorrect thing to say, but it is true. The only thing that I can hope for them is they have someone, whether it is a parent or preschool teacher or whoever, there when they need someone to TAKE THIS BABY!

Risk factor # 4: Developmental Delay, Prematurity or Handicap

If you think it is terrible that anyone would abuse a baby, then you will like this fact even less - babies who have developmental problems are more likely to be abused than healthy babies. Perhaps this could be explained by behaviorism as well. Mothers seem to need some reinforcement of their efforts (as you will learn shortly in the section on attachment). A baby who just lays there, and does not show any response to the mother's talking, cuddling or attempting to feed him or her is not very reinforcing to the mother. A normal baby responds to being picked up and fed by cuddling to the mother or father, often gazing into the parent's face with a look that says, at least to the parent, "I think you are the must wonderful person in the world." How could you not love a baby? Some babies, on the other hand, due to prematurity, cocaine exposure or other problems in development are hypersensitive. When you pick them up, they arch their backs, scream as if stuck with a pin and push away. A baby who is visually or cognitively impaired may not look at the parent at all. Some parents, particularly those who have other of the risk factors above, such as youth, lack of social support and limited knowledge of child development, may interpret this behavior as "I am a bad parent" or "My baby doesn't like me."

This is the kind of thing that keeps me up at night worrying....All of the risk factors above are related. Young mothers tend more often to be single, lacking social support, have limited knowledge of child development and have children who have more developmental problems.

ASSIGNMENT #2: You are a child care aide at the center where 16-year-old Shiquona has her five-month-old daughter enrolled. Shiquona, a single parent, lives with her mother, who is seldom home due to working long hours at the casino and a lot of time spent at bingo. What would you do to help Shiquona and her daughter? Give at least five SPECIFIC suggestions. NOTE: "Be there for her" is not specific enough - "Give her my phone number to call if she ever needs someone to just take the baby for an hour." would be better. 

Click here to go to the next page, on infant cognitive development, so YOU will know a little more about what is and isn't normal development in infancy

Spirit Lake Consulting, Inc. -- P.O.Box 663, 314 Circle Dr., Fort Totten, ND 58335 Tel: (701) 351-2175 Fax: (800) 905 -2571
Email us at:
An Indian-owned business