How could anyone abuse a defenseless child? Most of us can’t imagine what would make an adult abuse a child. The worse the behavior is, the more unimaginable it seems. Yet sadly, child abuse is much more common then you might think. Child abuse cuts across social classes and all ethnicities. And the abuse overwhelmingly is at the hands of those who are supposed to be protecting the child- the parents. Child abuse happens in many different ways, but the result is the same- serious physical or emotional harm. Physical or sexual abuse may be the most striking types of abuse, since they often unfortunately leave physical evidence behind. However, emotional abuse and neglect are serious types of child abuse that are often more subtle and difficult to spot. Child neglect is the most common type of child abuse. There are many complicated factors that lead to child abuse. Risk factors for child abuse include:
History of child abuse: Unfortunately, the patterns we learn in childhood are often what we use as parents. Without treatment and insight, sadly, the cycle of child abuse often continues.
Stress and lack of support: Parenting can be a very time intensive, difficult job. Parents caring for children without support from family, friends or the community can be under a lot of stress. Teen parents often struggle with the maturity and patience needed to be a parent. Caring for a child with a disability, special needs or difficult behaviors is also a challenge. Caregivers who are under financial or relationship stress are at risk as well.
Alcohol or drug abuse: Alcohol and drug abuse lead to serious lapses in judgment. They can interfere with impulse control making emotional and physical abuse more likely. Due to impairment caused by being intoxicated, alcohol and drug abuse frequently lead to child neglect.
Domestic violence: Witnessing domestic violence in the home, as well as the chaos and instability that is the result, is emotional abuse to a child. Frequently domestic violence will escalate to physical violence against the child as well.
All types of child abuse and neglect leave lasting scars. Some of these scars might be physical, but emotional scarring has long lasting effects throughout life, damaging a child’s sense of self and ability to have healthy relationships. One of the most painful effects of child abuse is its tendency to repeat itself. One of every three abused or neglected children will grow up to become an abusive parent. You may be reluctant to interfere in someone’s family, but you can make a huge difference in a child’s life if you do. The earlier abused children get help, the greater chance they have to heal from their abuse and not perpetuate the cycle.