Therapy That Works...

When Child Abuse Becomes Murder - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Watch Dr. Sylvia on CBS 11 discuss how child abuse can lead to murder - click here

Why would a parent do this to their own child?

Abusive parents have a lack of conscience along with a lack of self-control that combusts when the child does something that frustrates or angers them. The child is often just being a regular kid and the parent takes his own irritation out on an innocent child who is utterly helpless to defend himself. Remember that parents who resort to such heinous behavior (such as starving a child to death) lack the fundamental tools to parent effectively. The starvation of this child was most likely the end point of a lifetime of abuse and neglect.

What are the characteristics of these parents?

Cycle of Abuse: Abusive parents have often been abused or neglected during their own childhood. One study estimated that approximately one third of abused children will grow up to become abusers themselves. Remember though, that two thirds of kids who are abused do not grow up to abuse others.

Substance Abuse: Substance abuse is highly correlated with the parental mistreatment of a child.

Harsh Discipline: Harsh interactions with the child are typical. They do not reward the adorable things that children do and remain either detached or critical. Studies find that physically abusive mothers are more likely to use harsh discipline strategies such as hitting, isolation and verbal aggression.

Isolated, chaotic, and financially challenged families are more likely inflict harm on a child who is both invisible and marginalized.

Unrealistic Expectations of the Child: A parent’s negative attitudes, misunderstanding, and attributions about a child's behavior may contribute to the abuse. Moms who physically abuse their kids have higher and more negative expectations for their children. These expectations are inaccurate and unjust. Unmet expectations can lead to lashing out at a helpless child.

Viewing the Child as an Object: Tragically some parents relegate a child to the status of a mere object in their lives. The child has no rights, no voice and is never shown compassion in the face of frustration. Such parents are devastating in the life of a child.

What are some signs that concerned adults could look for in the child we’re concerned about?

Remember that many kinds of serious child abuse are often invisible, inaudible and almost always usually committed behind closed doors. However, there are specific signs that you can detect to if you are concerned about a child:

Acts of Humiliation: The active belittling of a child with contemptuous language and behavior. The child is the focus of reprimands and criticisms that make the child feel unworthy and helpless.

Abandonment and Rejection: The child is pushed away either with words and actions.

Isolation: Often the child is alone in this abuse, unable to really explain what they feel or articulate what is going on at home. It is very difficult to complain about your parent who is supposed to be the guardian of your welfare.

Exploiting Trust and Good Will: Child abuse is the ultimate betrayal of a child at the hands of a parent. Our parents are charged with our protection and any abdication of this role—in any way-- is unacceptable.

What are the long-term effects on children who go through this kind of experience?

Invisible and Marginalized: They feel relegated to the role of an object. In those invisible moments you are being emotionally annihilated. You do not develop the sense of yourself that originates in the interactions with others. Normal developmental milestones-- emotional, cognitive and physical are not completed.

Social and Academic Delays: Academic and intellectual delays are common in kids who are treated this way. Social relationships are often immature.

Emotional Scars: Problems in emotional self-regulation is most common and the most significant. If you cannot control your reactions—both emotional and behavioral, you cannot achieve anything. The child who is systematically abused cannot calm down without avoiding. As they grow up, they begin to turn to alcohol, acting out at school or at work, oppositional behaviors and a host of other problems that indicate a basic problem in emotional self-regulation. They cannot tolerate ordinary stress and underperform in life and in relationships.

What can our parents do to avoid all types of emotional abuse?

Accountable to your Child: First of all, audit your own choices and behaviors. It is easy to harshly turn on our kids in lives overrun with stress and discord. However, your first and final responsibility is to your child. Remain accountable to yourself by maintaining strict standards on verbal and emotional blowups and over reactions with your child.

Parents Must Self-Regulate Emotions: Emotional abuse by parents always comes from either a sense of helplessness or a lack of conscience about the welfare of the child. Do not allow your helplessness to morph into verbal and behavioral unkindness to the child who is under your care. If you perceive your own lack of self-control in this area, see a psychologist and learn the emotional regulation skills that you must in turn, teach your child.


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