Why some people hurt children

There’s no simple answer that will help explain why some parents or adults abuse children.

As with many things, the factors that lead to child abuse are complex and often interwoven with other issues. These issues may be far more difficult to detect and understand than the abuse itself.

Adults who are abusing children may also show certain signs or behaviors, such as:

  • ignoring or denying a child’s problematic behavior, changes, or difficulties
  • using language that shows they view the child as worthless or burdensome
  • demanding physical or academic performances that aren’t achievable by their child
  • asking teachers or other caregivers to use harsh punishment if the child misbehaves
  • rarely showing physical affection to the child
  • showing hostility to the child, especially in light of bad behavior
  • displaying little concern for their child

What to do if you’re afraid you might hurt a child

Being a parent can be a joyful, meaningful, and sometimes overwhelming experience. There may be times your children push you to the limit. You may feel driven to behaviors you wouldn’t normally think you were capable of.

The first step to prevent child abuse is recognizing the feelings you’re having. If you’re afraid you might abuse your child, you’ve already reached that important milestone. Now is the time to take steps to prevent any abuse.

First, remove yourself from the situation. Don’t respond to your child during this moment of anger or rage. Walk away.

Then, use one of these resources to find ways to navigate your feelings, emotions, and the steps that are necessary to handle the situation.

What to do if you suspect a child is being hurt

If you believe a child you know is being abused, seek immediate help for that child.

What is child abuse?

Child abuse is any type of abuse or neglect that harms a child. It’s often perpetrated by a parent, caregiver, or other person who has authority in the child’s life.

The facts of child abuse

Child abuse is almost always preventable. It requires a level of recognition on the part of parents and caregivers. It also requires work from the adults in a child’s life to overcome the challenges, feelings, or beliefs that lead to these behaviors.

However, this work is worth the effort. Overcoming abuse and neglect can help families become stronger. It can also help children lower their risk for future complications.

Consequences of abuse during childhood

A 2009 study examined the role of a variety of adverse childhood experiences on health in adults. Experiences included:

  • abuse (physical, emotional, sexual)
  • witnessing domestic violence
  • parental separation or divorce
  • growing up in a home with family members who had mental health conditions, substance use disorders, or were sent to prison

Researchers found those who reported six or more adverse childhood experiences had an average life span 20 years shorter than those who didn’t have these experiences.

Individuals who were abused as children are more likely to repeat the cycle of behavior with their own children. Child abuse or neglect may also lead to substance use disorders in adulthood.

If you were abused as a child, these consequences may seem dismal to you. But remember, help and support is out there. You can heal and thrive.

Knowledge is also power. Understanding the side effects of child abuse can help you make healthy decisions now.

How to spot the signs of child abuse

Children who are abused don’t always realize they’re not to blame for the behaviors of their parents or other authority figures. They may attempt to hide some of the evidence of the abuse.

However, adults or other authority figures in the child’s life, such as a teacher, coach, or caregiver, can often spot telltale signs of possible abuse.

You can help stop the cycle

Healing is possible when adults and authority figures find ways to help children, their parents, and anyone involved in child abuse.

While the treatment process isn’t always easy, it’s important that everyone involved find the help they need. This can stop the cycle of abuse. It can also help families learn to thrive by creating a safe, stable, and more nurturing relationship.