Safety, security, nurturing: what children need to grow and thrive
All children have the right to grow up safe from harm, neglect and abuse. To grow, develop and thrive, children need to feel safe and secure.
It’s never OK to harm a child, no matter how you’re feeling.
If you feel you might hurt your child or you have hurt your child, you and your child need immediate help. Call Lifeline on 131 114, the National Domestic Family and Sexual Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978, or a parenting helpline. If your child needs medical assistance, call an ambulance on 000.
Harmful behaviour towards children
Harmful behaviour towards children isn’t good for their growth, development or physical, psychological and emotional wellbeing.
Harmful behaviour includes:
- using physical force – for example, hitting, slapping, kicking, pushing or shaking children
- neglecting children’s physical or emotional needs – for example, leaving children alone for long periods of time, not giving them enough food or drinks, or not taking them to the doctor when they’re sick
- acting in ways that make children feel scared, unloved or not good enough – for example, calling children names, yelling at them often or putting them down.
It’s also harmful to use physical, verbal or emotional violence towards other family members in front of children or while children are in the home. Even if children don’t see or hear the violence, their home can feel unsafe and scary.
If you think you need help for harmful behaviour towards children, you have a lot of support options. A good first step is talking to your GP or calling a parenting helpline. They can help you get the right support. For example, they might refer you to a psychologist, counsellor or social worker.
What to do when you feel you might hurt your child
If you feel like you might hurt your child, here’s what to do.
- If you’re holding your child, put them down gently where they’re safe.
- If someone else who also cares for your child is nearby, ask them to take over for a while – for example, your partner, a trusted friend or a neighbour.
- Take some deep breaths.
- If it’s safe to do so, walk away from your child and have 10-15 minutes alone. Do something that soothes you – for example, listen to music, go for a walk or take a shower.
- If you can’t walk away from your child, sit nearby and take some ‘time out’. Try blocking your ears or putting on noise-cancelling headphones if your child is being loud.
- Call someone to talk you through the moment, like a family member, a friend or a parenting helpline.
When you’re calmer
- Think about what has happened and how it’s affecting you and your child.
- Think about whether there’s something you can do to improve the situation. For example, could you change your family routine? Make time to do things you enjoy regularly? Or use stress management techniques?
- Get support to avoid hurting your child.
Getting support to avoid harmful behaviour towards children
If you feel like you might hurt your child and you’ve recognised these feelings, you can get help to avoid this risk. There are people and services who can work with you and help you navigate the challenges that come with raising children.
By seeking help, you’re doing the best thing possible for your child, your family and yourself.
Here are people or services who can help you:
- counsellors on parenting or mental health helplines
- family support services or parenting programs in your area
- family relationships services like Relationships Australia or Family Relationships Online
- your GP or child and family health nurse
- a psychologist, counsellor or social worker
- alcohol and other drug services
- family violence support services.
There are specific services for mothers, fathers, carers, LGBTQ+ families, parents with disability, and culturally and linguistically diverse families.
If you don’t know where to start or what services are available in your area, ask your GP or contact your local council for information.
Asking for help takes courage. It also shows that you love your child and have your child’s best interests at heart. It shows that you know there’s a problem, are taking responsibility and are committed to improving things for your child, your family and yourself.