When you begin having children of your own the first instinct is to do what your parents did. This can be a good or bad thing depending on how you were raised.
If you were abused as a child you may be at a higher risk for abusing your own children. Although most child abuse victims do not go on to abuse their children it is important to take the preventative steps necessary to stop a potential cycle from occurring.
Now just to be clear, child abuse does not just mean physical abuse. It can also mean emotional abuse, sexual abuse, witnessing family violence, and neglect.
Knowing what child abuse or neglect looks like is an important first step in breaking the cycle. There are also important things to learn like the best ways to calm yourself and how to discipline your child. Just know that therapy is often an important step in overcoming childhood trauma so don't be afraid to seek help.
Effects of Child Abuse
Child abuse has many effects not only at the time of the incident(s) but some of the effects can last into adulthood. These can include impacts on behavior, mental health, emotional health, and physical health.
Some ways child abuse victims are impacted mentally can include mental health diagnoses, eating disorders, PTSD, and attachment disorders.
Child abuse can also affect victims emotionally which can contribute to low self-esteem, difficulties with trust and intimacy, difficulties coping in stressful situations, and difficulties making and maintaining relationships.
Physically, child abuse can contribute to physical disabilities, learning disabilities, health problems, a higher risk of substance abuse, and even premature death.
Child abuse victims are also at a higher risk for behavioral problems such as violence, delinquency, suicidal thoughts or behavior, self-injury, abusing others, difficulties keeping a job, and high-risk sexual behaviors.
Symptoms and Signs of Child Abuse
Be aware of the children around you. Have you ever noticed any sudden behavioral, emotional, or physical changes? Look through the list below to become familiar with the signs that may indicate child abuse.
Emotional Abuse Symptoms
Loss of self-confidence or self-esteem
Avoidance of certain situations
Delayed or inappropriate emotional development
A decline in school performance
Physical Abuse Symptoms
Unexplained injuries including bruises, burns, or fractures
Injuries that don't match up with the explanation
Poor growth and/or weight gain
Lack of clothing or other needed supplies
Stealing or taking money or food
Saving food for later
Poor school attendance
Lack of appropriate medical attention when needed
Sexual Abuse Symptoms
Blood in child's underwear
Sexual behavior and/or knowledge not appropriate for the child's age
Pregnancy or STI
Inappropriate sexual contact with other children
Statements that he/she was sexually abused
If you notice some or even all of these symptoms in a child it is vital to get help. You can call or text the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453. Or you can call your local Child Protective Services (CPS) office. Or if there is currently harm being done don't be afraid to call 911.
How to Stop the Cycle
The cycle can stop with you. Start with the things you can control like being a nurturing parent, gaining knowledge of child development, and having support and connections. You can also work on becoming socially and emotionally competent yourself so that not only you can express yourself appropriately but that your children can follow your example.
Part of being emotionally competent means learning how to calm yourself when your children make you angry. Ways this can be achieved can include meditative breathing, using a stress ball, or even removing yourself from the situation for a moment.
Another thing you can do as a parent is prioritizing teaching your child through consequences rather than just using punishment. Also, you can work on praising your child when they do something right rather than feeling like you have to discipline them all the time.
There will likely be times where you snap and you will be finding yourself doing something to your child that you soon regret like yelling at them or spanking them a little too hard. These are times when you need to make the situation right by apologizing, explaining what you did wrong, and making it a goal for both sides to improve their behavior.
Don't be afraid to seek help from a therapist if you need some extra help. Therapists can help you work through your feelings and develop effective but safe techniques you can use to discipline your children. Also, if you are still struggling from a traumatic childhood be sure to seek out a childhood trauma therapist who can help you with any remaining trauma. For more information on healing childhood trauma learn here.
Children's Bureau. (2019). Long-term consequences of child abuse and neglect. Child Welfare.
Guest. (2020). How to break the cycle of abusive parenting. Stop Abuse Campaign. https://stopabusecampaign.org/2020/04/27/how-to-break-the-cycle-of-abusive-parenting/.
Hunter, C., & Lamont, A. (2014). Effects of child abuse and neglect for adult survivors. Child Family Community Australia. https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/effects-child-abuse-and-neglect-adult-survivors.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2021). Child abuse. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/child-abuse/symptoms-causes/syc-20370864.
Thatcher, T. (2018). Healing childhood trauma in adults. Highland Springs. https://highlandspringsclinic.org/blog/healing-childhood-trauma-adults/.