MARINE CORPS LOGISTICS BASE BARSTOW, Calif. --
The base’s Behavioral Health division hosted guest speakers Dawn Herring, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and Dr. Nikki Rotert, a licensed psychologist, to speak to military personnel and civilians about child abuse prevention at the Maj. Gen. James L. Day Conference Center aboard Marine Corps Logistics Base Barstow, Calif., April 11.
The women have a combined 50 years of service in the field of family relationships to include child abuse awareness and prevention, as well as child mental health. Both women echoed the same concern for the statistics regarding child abuse.
“In 2016, 1,750 children were lost to maltreatment,” said Herring. “Of those deaths, 80 percent resulted at the hand of a parent.”
These numbers do not account for accidents. Physical abuse is the non-accidental harm of a child. Often, physical abuse begins after an escalation process through neglect, humiliation and exploitation, explained Herring.
“Exploitation is generally about power and control,” said Herring. “Humiliation is about isolation and may include belittling. Neglect can be general or severe. Child endangerment may be something such as witnessing a domestic violence incident.”
As part of the presentation, Herring played a video clip from a Ted Talk presentation highlighting Nadine Burke Harris, a pediatrician and child welfare advocate serving the San Francisco area. In the video, she addresses a study conducted by Dr. Vince Felitti and associates called Adverse Childhood Experiences. The purpose of the study was to assess the correlation between of ACEs, including abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction, to the risk of not just mental health issues as an adult, but on physical health issues. The study uses a questionnaire, and then a basic scoring system. The study results indicate that the higher the ACEs score, the higher the likelihood that the individual will experience higher rates of depression and even suicide. The results also indicate a higher risk of physical health issues to include asthma, lung cancer, heart disease and more.
Harris quoted Dr. Robert Block, former president of the American Academy of Pediatrics as saying that “adverse childhood experiences are the single most damaging threat to kids.” She pointed out that childhood trauma can cause the brains of developing children to get locked into fight or flight mode, reprogramming the hypothalamic-pituitary portion of the brain.
Some of this trauma can come from simple misunderstandings in communications between children and adults, explained Dr. Rotert. One example she gave was regarding “the message of the green beans.”
“When I was a child, I didn’t like green beans,” Rotert said. “My parents were a part of the ‘clean plate club.’”
She went on to describe an ongoing battle between her and her parents as she continued to refuse to eat green beans until they finally force fed them to her by grabbing her face and forcing them down her throat. What the adults understood was that these incidents were a struggle for power and control. What her child-brain learned was the adults think green beans are a big deal; green beans were evil, and she could sit for a very long time at the kitchen table. She, as a child, had no concept of what the adults were trying to teach her.
“This is such a common issue between parents and their children,” Rotert said. To understand what lessons a child is learning, the parents must step back and calmly think as their child would.
“We all generally crave the same things in a relationship,” Herring said. “I call it TESHD. We want to be Touched. We want Eye-contact. We want to be Seen and Heard. We want to be Delighted in.”
She gave an example of an infant being loved on by a parent.
“We ooh and ahh at them. We look at them, smile at them, and play with them,” Herring said. “We are delighting in them and they know it! They respond in kind and with joy. Just like they also know if they’re not being delighted in… perhaps they’re being ignored because the parent is stuck looking at Facebook.”
In adult relationships, the needs are no different. Partners want eye contact rather than talking at someone who has their eyes glued to their phones. Other examples she cited include being responsive to phone calls or text messages; hugging and intimacy; doing the things people say they will do.
Another acronym Herring used for recognizing healthy relationships was ARP.
“Are they Available?” Herring asked. “I mean available in every way. Are they Reliable? Do they do the things they say they will do? Can you depend on them? Are you a Priority?”
While both women spoke of the importance of intervention for the welfare of children, Rotert cautioned members of the audience to temper the tendency to criticize parents dealing with a difficult child.
“The next time you see a child throwing a temper tantrum in the middle of a store, temper the urge to criticize them and instead try a different tactic,” Rotert said. “I like to say something off the wall like ‘isn’t it amazing that all toddlers have the same choreographer? They all know that for a good tantrum they have to yell, then throw themselves on the floor, then kick their feet, then hit the floor with their fists.’”
She said that, more often than not, the embarrassed parent will be relieved and their building temper will diffuse rather than escalate.
While ACEs do give a score and a path to understanding the effects of childhood on the physical and mental well-being of an adult as a result of their past, it does not end there. Once someone has done their evaluation, they are encouraged to then give that number to their primary care physician as well as a behavioral health professional so that people can embark on their journey of healing.
“Healing doesn’t mean that the damage never happened,” Rotert said. “It means that it no longer controls you.”
With proper health care and proper therapy such as cognitive-behavioral intervention, people can change the course of their physical and mental well-being.
To take the ACEs assessment, or for more information about child abuse awareness, prevention, and treatment, contact representatives of Behavioral Health at 577-6533.