This holiday season, like all others, thousands of school-aged children across our Valley gleefully wave good-bye to their teachers until next year. Children's Hospital Central California wants all those kids to head back to class in January free from injury.
Children – who are suddenly home all day long – require nonstop vigilance from parents, babysitters or other caregivers. Responsible adults must remember to guard against the potential dangers of unattended burning candles, poisonous mistletoe and holly berries, a roaring hearth too close to the Christmas tree, and reckless sledding, skiing and snowboarding. But many forget to watch out for an all together different source of danger, which brings harm to far too many children during the holiday season.
Carlos Flores, trauma coordinator at Children's Hospital, warns parents of the threat hidden beneath the overwhelming nature of the holidays. “Unfortunately, our society has gotten to the point where we’re stressing with you-have-to-have,” said Flores. “With a lot of families the stress factor increases, and we’re bombarded with high, unmet expectations. We’re spending money that we don’t have.” The level of anxiety which escalates between Dec. 24 and New Year’s Day can wreak havoc with a person’s self-control. Tragically, unleashed alcohol consumption, substance abuse, or extreme angst can lead to crimes against innocent children.
"Unfortunately, there is an increase in child abuse during this time of year because all those stressors are involved. We have some literature to support that, and we know that we see it here in the Central Valley," said Flores. Throughout the year a staggering number of local cases shatter lives. In the 10-county area served by Children’s Hospital, 78,847 children suffered from abuse or neglect in 2009. The most wonderful time of the year can become the most overwhelming time, but stress does not have to lead to actions we later regret.
“This is a time for us to really slow down and relate to the original message that was given to us about 2000 years ago, with the babe that was born, hope and unconditional love,” said Flores. He advises adults to take a deep breath and slow down. Set realistic goals and pace yourself. Flores also recommends spending time with supportive people who care and can lend a hand when needed.
Flores knows one place to quickly find necessary support. “If you get into any type of problem, child care issues or financial issues, United Way 2-1-1 will get you in contact with appropriate resources that can help,” he said. Calling the certified information and referral specialists at the 2-1-1 phone service is free and confidential. The specialists will help you find child care services, counseling and more.
Slow down and embrace your children when they come home from school for their winter break. Sit with them and watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” or other holiday movie classic. Ease stress by taking time out to celebrate the season with friends and family. These simple steps can help keep our children safe.
May your days be merry and bright… and injury-free.