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Abused parents: Tykes deliver crushing blows, concussions and breaks to their caregivers

Published: Wednesday, May 22 2013 11:00 a.m. MDT

Tykes are sending their parents and caregivers to emergency rooms with concussions, eye injuries and broken teeth. But "unintentional parental abuse" shouldn't destroy closeness, experts say. You just have to learn to stand clear and be one step ahead of the baby.

"Although much attention is paid to the safety of infants and toddlers, their sudden jabs, bites, head-butts and kicks can inflict injuries on caregivers, usually parents," wrote David Wallis on The New York Times' Well blog. After her 2-year-old "clocked her under the eye, leaving a significant shiner," Alaina Webster coined the term, unintentional parental abuse, on her blog, Absolute Uncertainties.

"According to emergency room physicians, pediatricians and other experts, UPA is no laughing matter," The New York Times piece said. "With unpredictable infants and toddlers, meals, bath time or even cuddles can go terribly wrong. Though statistics for injuries caused by young children are difficult to find, parents routinely suffer concussions, chipped teeth, corneal abrasions, nasal fractures, cut lips and torn earlobes, among other injuries."

Empowering Parents, which offers child behavior help, has a section focusing on what to do when children unleash aggression on other children. Many of the injuries to parents, though, are unintentional, caused by a very young child squirming or kicking or grabbing.

Dr. Joan Simeo Munson, a psychologist in Boulder, Colo., wrote the Empowering Parents piece, in which she notes that "many times kids who display aggressive behaviors simply lack the communication skills necessary to help them through a stressful situation."

Parents are cautioned never to react to injury — to themselves or to others — by inflicting pain. "For older children, those between 3 and 7, remember that they may be experimenting with cause and effect," wrote Munson. "In other words, they want to see what you will do when they act out. It’s your job to provide the consequences for the 'effect' to work. Since older children are more verbal, you can use a variety of phrases when they misbehave. Examples include, 'Biting is not OK,' or 'Hitting hurts others. You need to stop.' It is OK to tell your little biter/hitter/kicker that once he misbehaves, he’s lost a privilege for the day."

Parents need to be well-rested and alert to avoid accidental danger, various experts told Wallis. Among the advice: trim fingernails (the baby's), pull hair back (your own), don't wear jewelry and especially avoid earrings that dangle and attract tugs.

Don't let the possibility of injury hamper interactions, though.

"But child development experts urge parents and caregivers to try to quickly overcome residual fears and resume physical closeness with their child," Wallis wrote.

"Looking your child right in the eye and letting them see your face really helps with their verbal and their social and emotional development," pediatrician Dr. Allison Brindle of Cleveland Clinic Children's Hospital told Wallis. "Aside from promoting bonding, roughhousing helps children gain motor skills."

"Being a good parent is taking one for the team," Dr. Benjamin Hoffman, medical director of the Tom Sargent Children's Safety Center at Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland, Ore., told the Times.

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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