‘Your History Is Not Destiny’

Most parents who were abused do not harm their kids.

Although people often talk about “breaking the cycle of abuse,” studies show that most parents who were physically abused as children do not grow up to physically abuse their children, says Katherine Pears, a research scientist at the Oregon Social Learning Center. Here she explains the research on abuse and parenting:

That’s a notion in people’s heads that if you haven’t had a good model of parenting, you’re unlikely to become a good parent yourself.

But studies that have been going on for 20 years have looked at parents who were physically abused and how they care for their children, and most find that only 20-30 percent of people who were physically abused as children go on to be abusive.That means that at least 70 percent don’t go on to be abusive.

A history of abuse is not destiny. It doesn’t mean that you will grow up to have difficulties as a parent. There’s a lot of room for hope.

Make a Rule a Rule

In my research, I found that one key to whether parents were physically abusive or not had to do with whether the parent was consistent in enforcing rules. I studied boys who had parents that had been abused, and found the parents who were inconsistent were more likely to be abusive.

Many parents find it difficult to remain consistent, but it’s essential to be consistent as a parent. If something is a rule on Monday, but not on Tuesday, kids learn from that that they don’t really have to mind what the parent says. Then, if the kid is not listening to the parent –well, that’s annoying! The parent gets irritated.

If the parent backs off, that encourages the kid to be more negative next time, and that starts a negative cycle. The parent and child begin one-upping the other, hoping the other will back off, but sometimes the parent gets very angry and responds with aggression or abuse.

Consistent parenting keeps these negative cycles from developing. If a rule is a rule, and the child has to mind what the parent says all of the time, you nip that cycle in the bud.

Take Steps to Avoid Triggers
The hopeful message is that parents can learn techniques to stop the cycle.We teach the parent to be consistent and to use tools for reducing tension.

We teach parents to recognize triggers to negative interactions. If you tend to get in fights right after school, maybe you need a routine that will help you feel more positive. Can you have a snack together? Do you need a few minutes to cool off, or does your child? If you feel more positive, it’s easier to be consistent about setting limits.

We also teach parents to take small steps. Say you want your child to put his backpack and lunchbox away when he comes home from school.We suggest taking small steps—first working with him on hanging up his backpack. Then, when he’s doing well with his backpack, showing him how to put his lunchbox away.

Praise Your Child

We also know that one key to successful parenting is positive reinforcement. If you can catch your child doing something good, and praise your child for what he does well, then every- one feels better.

We ask parents,“What is your child doing well?” Even if it’s just putting a plate on the counter without banging it, then you can say, “I noticed how you put your plate on the counter without banging!” If kids feel recognized for the things they do well, they are more willing to accept limits.

Programs that teach parents to set consistent limits, reduce triggers, and be positive with their children do help parents stop abusive patterns. Nobody is a lost cause. All parents can learn to be effective parents.

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