The Cycle of Child Abuse Can Be Broken

–Becky is a mother who loves her two-year-old son Gabe, but several factors have been stressing her lately–her husband’s affair, their financial situation, the loss of her mother to cancer–and this morning she did something she swore she would never do: She lost control of her temper and slapped Gage when he wouldn’t stop crying. She felt nothing but shame afterward, because she had been abused as a child, knew what it was like to be hit, and vowed that she would find other ways to parent. She found herself crying along with Gabe, wondering how she would explain the red handprint to her husband Jim when he got home from work that evening.

Becky’s story is typical of abused children. While it is true that not all children who are abused grow up to hurt their own, in some cases it is true. states that about 1/3 of abuse victims grow into adults who victimize their own children.

This is called the cycle of abuse, because it is handed down from generation to generation. Children truly do learn what they live. If they live in a home where they witness abusive behavior or domestic violence on a daily basis, they will practice this in adulthood because it is a pattern of behavior that they have learned. They have no other set of coping skills to use.

Most parents don’t plan to harm their children. Abuse comes about when a crisis or frustration arises, and the parent reacts in the only way they know, which is usually the way they have witnessed or learned while growing up. These parents lack the skills for alternative, non-violent discipline. Some abusive parents won’t acknowledge or aren’t aware that they are being abusive until it is pointed out, and even then some deny that their behavior has reached a harmful level or could have a negative, long-lasting impact on their children.

This cycle of abuse can be broken, but it rarely takes place without some sort of intervention, usually in the form of parenting classes or family counseling; either ordered by the court or protective agency. Even then, it takes a willing parent who is involved enough to want to change how they interact with their children. These parents are asked to set aside their shame, guilt, and old set of parenting ideas.

Parenting classes and family counseling teach parents non-physical forms of discipline, such as time-out, grounding, and redirection, rewards and consequences, etc. These classes also teach parents ways to manage anger and crises, and improve their interpersonal communication skills.

Preventing child abuse is the key to stopping the cycle of violence. There are many success stories from parents who have found a better, safer, healthier way to parent.

One such outcome belongs to Becky, the mother mentioned at the beginning of the story.

She knew she couldn’t hide the mark on Gabe’s face, and rather than lie about it, called a clergyman, who encouraged her to talk to child protective services and ask for help. She told her husband what happened, and he went to the agency with her, where they both enrolled in parenting classes on their own.

A year later Becky says, “I was so fixed on how I parented. I knew there were other things I could do besides hit, but I didn’t know how to handle my anger. Hitting Gabe was wrong. I felt like such a bad mother. But I know now that all mothers make mistakes. The thing is, do we learn from our mistakes, or keep repeating them?”

If you know or suspect that a child is being abused, do something. It is not up to you to prove it, but your concern could save a child’s life, and could help prevent the cycle from continuing.

–An incident of child abuse is reported every 10 seconds.

–Child abuse occurs in all racial, socioeconomic, financial, religious, and cultural groups.

–About 40% of all women incarcerated, and 15% of all men incarcerated, were victims of child abuse.

–Children who were sexually abused are more likely to use alcohol and drugs and engage in promiscuity or prostitution.

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