There is a lot more to child abuse than physically hurting a child. It is not always bruises and broken bones that reveal a child is a victim of abuse. Physical abuse might be the easiest to recognize; however, other types of abuse, such as emotional abuse and neglect, can be detrimental to a child’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being. For an outsider, it may not be easy to notice that the abuse is taking place. That is why learning to recognize abusive parents is very important to help children heal and break the cycle of abuse. You can intervene and make a huge difference in a child’s life.
Emotional Child Abuse
Although the tongue is a small muscle, it can leave children with profound wounds. Emotional abuse is a very common tactic of abusive parents. Its scars may not be visible, but they can severely damage a child’s mental and social development.
Examples of emotional child abuse include the following:
– Constantly belittling, shaming, and humiliating the child
– Calling names and making negative comparisons to others
– Telling the child that he or she is “no good,” “worthless,” “bad,” or a “mistake”
– Frequent yelling, threatening, or bullying
– Ignoring or rejecting the child as a way of punishment and giving him or her the silent treatment
– Limited physical contact with the child – no hugs, kisses, or other signs of affection
– Exposing the child to violence or the abuse of others, whether it is the abuse of a parent, sibling, or even a pet.
Physical Child Abuse
With the intention of imposing discipline, abusive parents and caregivers justify severe physical punishments, using methods which are inappropriate to the child’s age or physical condition, for example, beating the child with a belt. Every child should be disciplined, but without fear. There are criteria which differentiate parents who are simply trying to discipline their children from abusive parents. First, with abusive parents, the child can never predict what his parents’ reactions will be. He does not understand what action or behaviour triggers the physical assault. Second, abusive parents always act out of anger and a desire to assert control which has nothing to do with disciplining the child. The angrier they get, the more intense the abuse becomes.
Neglect is one of the most common forms of child abuse; abusive parents do not provide the child with his basic physical and emotional needs, whether it is food, clothing, shelter, or even taking care of his personal hygiene. This is not easily spotted because other people may easily justify it and say that the parents are busy working or are under a lot of stress in their lives. Sometimes older children may take over the role of the parent and start taking care of themselves and their younger siblings, which forces them to act way older than their actual age.
Another form of abuse that abusive parents may practice against their children is isolation. Some parents do not understand the importance of socializing to a child’s well-being. Abusive parents who do not have their children’s interest at heart often isolate their children from everyone including their peers and other adults. Children are stopped from attending social events such as birthday parties and sleepovers.
Other abusive parents are even stricter and prevent their children from participating in any fun or developmental activities at school, such as field trips or sport activities. Isolation may be even stricter and some parents force their children to sit in their rooms all by themselves. This is often known as grounding a child and is completely acceptable as long as the child understands why he is being punished and it is done for a limited period of time.
The scariest part about sexual abuse is that children are often afraid to share with anyone what has happened to them. Although child sexual abuse can happen by anyone that the child knows and trusts, such as step-parent, sibling, family friend, neighbor, babysitter, teacher, sexual abuse that happens by a parent is the worst. There are many ways to tell that a child has been a victim of sexual abuse. Children who have been victims of sexual abuse may have nightmares or sleep problems, sudden mood swings, and loss of appetite. They may start having problems sitting or walking or feel discomfort when changing their clothes. Children may even begin to develop certain tension and hostility to anyone who comes close to them. A child showing any sexual knowledge or attitude inappropriate to their age is a suspicious sign that this child is being exposed to sexual abuse.
Refusal to Talk about Problems
The way parents handle their children’s problems may uncover their abusive nature. It is very common for children to fight together. Abusive parents refuse to interfere and stand up for their children. Abusive parents may become aggressive if the child learns something at school which will teach him to resist abuse. In such cases, abusive parents may lash out at their children and may even start threatening the principal or the teacher rather than addressing the real problem.
Warning Signs of Child Abuse and Neglect
Children exposed to emotional abuse show the following signs:
– Excessive withdrawal, fear, or anxiousness
– Extreme behaviors (they are either extremely compliant or extremely demanding and extremely passive or extremely aggressive)
– Detachment from parents and caregivers
– Age-inappropriate behavior: acting like adults (taking care of other children) or like infants (rocking, thumb-sucking, and throwing tantrums)
Children exposed to physical abuse show the following signs:
– Frequent injuries or unexplained bruises, welts, or cuts
– A constant feeling of watchfulness or alertness, as if the child is waiting for something bad to happen
– Injuries appear to have a pattern such as marks from a hand or belt
– Shying away from physical touch and flinching at sudden movements
– Resistance to go home
– Wearing inappropriate clothing to cover up injuries, such as long-sleeved shirts on hot days
Children exposed to neglect show the following signs:
– Wearing ill-fitting, filthy, or weather-inappropriate clothes
– Poor personal hygiene
– Untreated illnesses and physical injuries
– No adult supervision in unsafe situations and environments
– Frequent absence from school
Children exposed to sexual abuse show the following signs:
– Trouble walking or sitting
– Knowledge of or interest in sexual acts inappropriate to his or her age or even seductive behavior
– Trying hard to avoid sexually abusive parents
– Reluctance to change clothes in front of others or participate in physical activities
– STD or pregnancy, especially under the age of 14
– Running away from home
Can this Abusive Parent Be You?
Many abusive parents come from abusive homes themselves. You could be doing to your child what your parents did to you. The following signs may reveal whether or not you are an abusive parent yourself.
– You can’t stop your anger towards your children.
– You feel emotionally disconnected from your child.
– Meeting the daily needs of your child seems impossible.
– Other people have expressed concern about your behavior.
Living with Abusive Parents
If you have read this article and you have come to the conclusion that your parents are abusive, here are a few things you can do.
– Tell someone you trust
– Do your best to avoid the abuse
– Seek help from a school guidance counselor or a therapist
– Have the courage to admit that not all families are healthy and yours is one of them
– Don’t cry until you’re sure that your parent(s) cannot see or hear you
– Let someone you trust contact the authorities, if you cannot take it anymore
Adults with abusive parents should stay away from them and not allow them to lower their self-esteem. It is never an easy experience when one or both of your parents, who are supposed to be the source of love and warmth in your life, are the main cause of your misery, but you can always keep your head up and make plans to improve your life.
Growing up with abusive parents is the sort of experience that can leave a person scarred forever. Therefore, the earlier the problem is detected, the better. Seeking professional help and contacting the authorities may prevent many long-term problems. Abusive parents are responsible for domestic violence crimes as well as substance abuse in their homes. So if you suspect a case of abusive parents, take an action before it’s too late.