We’ve all seen it. A child threatens and then launches into a tantrum in a grocery store, a relative’s home or at school.
How parents — and adults in general — can handle that type of frustrating behavior was the subject of a discussion Friday at the downtown Santa Barbara headquarters of CALM (Child Abuse Listening Meditation), which is hosting a series of open houses this month to raise awareness for April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
Many don’t think child abuse occurs locally, but “it happens at every socio-economic level and ethnic group,” CALM development director Lori Lander Goodman said.
CALM was established 45 years ago after the death of a local infant, she said, killed by a parent struggling to quiet his child.
The free open houses highlight the nonprofit organization’s fourth annual “I Will Not Be Silent Campaign” in Santa Barbara County. The campaign is a chance to touch on an uncomfortable subject.
Parents, grandparents and community members gathered Friday for a tour of the 1236 Chapala St. office before sitting down to lunch, where they swapped stories about strong-willed kids and listened to CALM therapist Miriam Cislo in a talk titled “Encouraging Acceptable Behavior in Your Child.”
CALM served more than 2,000 individuals last year, but its therapists cater to more than abuse cases.
The organization helps children and their parents or guardians better understand each other through positive intervention, words or actions to calm a situation instead of exacerbate it.
Cislo said CALM was one of the few local places using parent-child interactive therapy, in which a therapist is behind a one-way mirrored glass while a parent interacts with his or her child and wears headphones to listen to cues from the therapist.
Most of the children going through CALM are between 2 and 7, and Cislo offered helpful hints to attendees, including reflecting what a child is saying to show you’re listening, or describing what a child is doing so he or she can better focus on those actions.
Praising was another suggestion, telling a child what you specifically like about what he or she is doing — i.e. sitting quietly in a chair instead of just saying “good job.”
“It really makes the parent feel good to give the praises, and it makes the child feel good as well,” Cislo said. “Ultimately, the child wants the attention, negative or positive.
“A lot of the work we do is helping the parent calm down. Don’t ignore the child but ignore the behavior. This is a process.”
A mother with a 4-year-old daughter wondered if parents should give the same consideration to their spouses, since kids seem to be watching.
Another asked about tantrums and knowing when to give in.
“It is important to model,” Cislo said. “The therapists are models to the parents, too. We’re the caretakers and we need to take care of ourselves. Be easy on yourself.”
Attendees asked questions as a pseudo support group, gaining confidence and learning they weren’t alone.
CALM’s remaining open houses are from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday, April 24 (“Recognizing and Reporting Child Abuse”), and Friday, May 1 (Understanding Your Child’s Anxieties Through Art”).
The organization will also host its annual “Ladies Get Loud for CALM” fundraiser from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Santa Maria Country Club, 505 W. Waller Lane.