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It is an unfortunate circumstance that parents who were abused as children often end up repeating that abusive behavior with their own kids. Most parents don’t abuse their children intentionally, but they may lose control and lash out. Afterwards, they are not sure how to correctly resolve or repair the situation, so it remains a lasting trauma for the child that carries into adulthood. Parents are also very likely to emulate the disciplinary style of their parents and think that it was good even when it was actually destructive and abusive. Breaking this behavior cycle is critical to the healthy development of current children and all future children.

Understand the Real Causes of Abuse

There are many reasons a parent may abuse his or her child. Most often, this abuse is the result of the parent’s own unresolved trauma. According to Psychology Today, parents must deal with their own traumas, pain and past experiences if they are to avoid repeating that trauma pattern with their own children. 

This means realizing that one’s own parents were real people, they weren’t perfect and they didn’t always treat you the right way. Instead of just creating blame, this process allows an adult to face the facts of their upbringing and identify patterns they liked and didn’t like. Only with this honest understanding and analysis can they view their own behavior objectively.

Learning Self Control

When a parent abuses their child, it is usually because the parent has become emotional or triggered. Young children don’t present a real physical threat, so violence toward them is both unnecessary and damaging. Parents may think that physical discipline is effective at control. The reality is that it instills only fear and mistrust between parent and child. There are far better ways to control children than through fear of pain.

Control also begins with the parent. There will certainly be times when a child triggers a parent, whether it be through annoyance or defiance. The best thing a parent can do is learn to recognize when they are triggered, what behaviors cause that trigger and have a plan for how they will release that emotion. This could mean going to separate room and hitting a pillow or stepping outside to be alone. Whatever the plan, it is important that it redirects the negative emotion away from the child. Then, when the parent is calm they can come back and provide effective, positive discipline to correct the child’s behavior.

Mentoring Children and Repairing Relationships

Children that have gone through abuse can strongly benefit from a mentoring relationship with a caring adult. Abuse has damaged that child’s ability to form healthy attachments and create positive relationships. If that damage is not repaired, it will carry over into adulthood and taint all future relationships.

Children mentoring programs give children an opportunity to experience a healthy relationship with an adult. This relationship serves them in many ways, including as a model for other relationships and as an emotional support when their trauma surfaces again. Big Brothers Big Sister is one example of such a program. Having a big brother big sister is one way to create positive relationships for children who may not have healthy options within their own families. 

Mentors don’t have to be trained counselors. All they need to do is provide a correct relationship for the child so the child feels comfortable, loved and respected. A close mentoring relationship may allow the child to discuss or work through their traumas, and a mentor may be able to direct an older child toward professional services that could help them.

When parents face their own pain and realize the true cause of their behaviors toward their kids, they can correct these behaviors. This makes them better parents and builds a better relationship between them and their children. Intervention from supportive adults can also help to teach abused children how real and healthy relationships work and break the cycles of abuse that are perpetuated generation after generation.

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