Teachers are therapists too
abuse is more widespread and affects more social and economic groups in our society than the statistics suggest. Confronting the scourge requires intervention not only from the authorities, but from the entire community. Educators, in particular, have a major role to play in identifying and reporting cases of abuse, in addition to helping victimised students through the healing process.
Nowadays, educators must take on the role of therapist as well as teacher. Children spend a large portion of their day in school, which provides a great opportunity for the educator to access and assess the students. A caring teacher is very often the most trusted adult in the life of a child. But many teachers have not been adequately trained or prepared for the complex social issues that so strongly affect abused children. The primary goal of the education system is to teach, but barriers that impede learning must be removed for this to take place effectively. Child abuse is one such obstacle.
Types of child abuse
There are four major types which I will discuss:
• Physical abuse
This is a non-accidental physical injury inflicted on a child. The teacher should be observant of unexplained bruises, welts, bite marks, or even bald spots where hair has been dragged out. Be on the lookout for unexplained burns, fractures, etc.
Students suffering from physical abuse usually show extremes in behaviour. They can either be withdrawn or aggressive. A common tell-tale sign is when a child seems very afraid of getting in trouble or getting a poor grade. You may even notice that they are uncomfortable with physical contact.
• Sexual abuse
This may include exploitation, molestation or prostitution of a child. This abuse is usually perpetrated by someone the child knows and trusts. It may be overt or covert. Overt sexual abuse is any form of “hands on” sexual abuse of a child. Examples include unwanted touching of any body part. Covert sexual abuse is more difficult to detect, but can be equally distressing to a child. It does not include physical contact and the perpetrator may feel no sense of guilt. Examples include voyeurism, asking the child to view pornography, or taking inappropriate photos of the child. A teacher may observe that the student may have difficulty walking or sitting. These students typically suffer from chronic depression or they may be excessively seductive. They suffer from poor self-esteem and may lack emotional self-control. They may even be openly promiscuous.
• Emotional Abuse
This includes routinely ignoring, criticising, shaming, and yelling at children. It also includes treating siblings unequally. It is often detected by observing behaviour, but it can manifest in other detectable ways. Victims may show speech disorders, bed wetting and other health problems. They may have patterns of sucking thumbs, biting, rocking, and may demonstrate anxiety, extreme emotions and suicidal thoughts and behaviour.
• Child neglect
This is when a parent or caregiver does not provide the care, supervision, affection, and support needed for a child’s health, safety and well-being. It usually leaves no visible scars and is therefore more difficult to detect. Nonetheless, the consequences are just as serious as physical abuse.
A safe classroom
A safe classroom is one in which students feel loved, cared for and comfortable. The most important feature in a safe classroom is the teacher’s attitude towards students. To offer support, the teacher must be approachable. Positive body language must be seen for a child to confide in you as a teacher. It is important to actively listen. The teacher must be sensitive about responding. The teacher’s response should make it clear that the child has been heard, and one must also validate the child’s feelings without passing judgement.
There are times when the student may recant a story, and this is likely due to fear, threats or increased abuse. Most experts agree that children do not have the ability to make up complex lies, especially as it relates to adult sexual behaviour. So be sure to make reports to the relevant authorities.
Dr Karla Hylton is the author of
Yes! You Can Help Your Child Achieve Academic Success and Complete Chemistry for Caribbean High Schools.
She operates Bio & Chem Tutoring, which specialises in secondary level biology and chemistry. Reach her at (876) 564-1347,
gmail.com or khylton.com.