3 Signs You’re Abusive To Your Children (And What You Can Do To Become Better)

by Jeff Cans
parents reprimanding daughter during meal

Most parents set out to be good parents. They begin with the best intentions. They buy healthy milk, clothes, the best diapers, read some of the books, and watch other parents. Their goal is to raise healthy children who will contribute their unique gifts to the world and go after what they want and deserve. You are, most likely, one of these parents, but somewhere along the way, your good intentions may have morphed into bad parenting. Into behaviors that are damaging to your children. Discipline may have become too harsh or advice may have turned into criticism, but, you don’t have to continue these bad habits. There are better ways to relate to your children.


Let’s explore three ways you may be harming your children and ways to change this.

#1 Avoid Or Neglect

Whatever the reason for avoiding or neglecting your children, this is a sign that your relationship isn’t as healthy as it could be. Neglect is child abuse and is very common. While you may not be physically hurting your child, ignoring, leaving them unsupervised or poorly supervised, putting them in dangerous situations, or not taking care of their basic needs is damaging to them.

dad on phone ignoring and neglecting young sonPerhaps you believe that you are too busy with work or that babysitter is competent enough, or your children are old enough to care for themselves. All of these beliefs lead to neglect and negatively impact the well-being of your child. Neglect may lead to many long-term psychological problems now, and as your children age such as low self-esteem, mental health issues, and stunted social development.

In addition, neglect can be detrimental to your child’s behavioral, motor, cognitive, and language abilities. Neglect, as mentioned before, is common, and can seem like a less harmful form of abuse, but it isn’t. It comes with a host of problems that may include:

  • social isolation
  • difficulty regulating impulses
  • problems controlling emotions and coping with setbacks
  • self-harm
  • tantrums
  • tics
  • lower cognition
  • decreased academic achievement
  • poor relationships and friendships
  • damaging parenting habits

With such a long list of negative side effects of child neglect, here are some things you can do to combat this form of child abuse.

Criticize Less

It’s important to remember that your children are not defective copies of you. They are not supposed to be just like you. Your children are their own people, with their own passions, interests, and beliefs. Respecting this fact will greatly benefit your parent-child relationship. Whenever you are about to speak out of anger or frustration, pause, and think,

“Will this hurt my child?”

“Will this damage our relationship?”

“If I said this to my boss, would I be fired?

If the answer is anything but a solid no, don’t say this statement.

Use positive, uplifting words, to instill competence, responsibility, and self-love in your children. They need your love and belief to know love and belief in themselves.


Set aside time every day, throughout the day, to give your children your undivided attention. If your attention is divided, this tells your children that they are unimportant. Hang up your call, stop texting, get off of your computer, and just focus on them. It may feel like that deadline or project is the most important thing in the world, but your children are more important. Even if you were to get fired, you can get another job, but you cannot get the same wonderful children you have. If you can focus single-mindedly at work than you can focus on your children. Ask them questions and genuinely listen to the answers. They truly need your focus, just for themselves.


Thoroughly vet all people who care for your children and the locations you place your children in.

Babysitters. Get references for your babysitter and do not swap babysitters without vetting each one. If the babysitter doesn’t seem capable or your children say they don’t like the babysitter, talk to your children alone. Ask them why.

Dangerous locations. Children are unable to care for themselves and make the best decisions. That is your job. You must use your adult judgment to carefully look at a situation for potentially dangerous people, events, and objects. Don’t leave young children alone at home. Supervise your children, of nearly any age, in a public location.


#2 Physical/Verbal Abuse

Physical abuse

Physical abuse involves intentionally causing any physical harm to your children or letting them come to harm. Frustration is a daily reality for everyone, especially adults, but venting on your children isn’t the answer. Physically abusing your children not only leads to physical scars but often leads to psychological scars that last their entire life.

Even one physically violent behavior can cause damage, no matter how small.

Verbal abuse

child with bruised face covering ears while mom makes a fistVerbal abuse includes constant criticism, belittling, name-calling, shaming, shunning, and other controlling behaviors inflicted on your children that involves words. Common with verbal abuse is negative body language, like rolling your eyes and glaring.

Even one slur can damage your child’s self-esteem.

Both of these abuses may create problems in your child’s life now and in the future, such as loss of confidence, a belief that they are less than others, anxiety, depression, reckless sexual behaviors, apathy, hostility, and attention deficit disorder (ADD).

To combat physical and verbal abuse, you may want to talk to a counselor. This trained professional can help you find better ways to treat your children and deal wit stress. For instance, you may learn ways to pause before acting, leave before exploding, and develop better impulse control. The counselor may want to discuss child abuse you experienced that may be carrying over into your relationship with your children.

Counting to 10 is a tried-and-true method of slowing down your actions before committing them. This is highly recommended because once you commit an act you can’t undo it.

Your children need positive physical and emotional contact such as hugs, kisses, praise, and acceptance for who they are.


#3 Authoritarian Parenting

Demanding obedience and forcing your children to accept your choices is another sign that you are a poor father. When you ignore your child’s intelligence level, interests, and capacities to put your own unfulfilled ambitions on their shoulders, you are being an authoritarian parent.

To achieve good, usually perfect, behavior you may threaten, shame, and, mentioned before, demand constant obedience. You may feel intense anger and disappointment when your children don’t meet your lofty, most likely impossible, expectations. It’s a good habit to remember that, like you, your children are human and make mistakes. Expectations must be high enough where they challenge your children but not so high that they will always fail.

To fight this behavior, you should encourage your children, not seek to control their every thought and behavior. Accept your children as they are and resist looking for every opportunity to change them. Compromise, don’t control.

Abuse of children is usually caused by underlying issues. For any form of abuse you inflict on your children, seeking the counsel of a trained professional is a great first step. You can be a good dad, you need only learn how.



If you are exhibiting any of these signs, or have in the past, call the following organizations or talk to your family doctor.

Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline 800-4-A-CHILD (800-422-4453)

Prevent Child Abuse America 800-CHILDREN (800-244-5373)

Your family doctor can refer you to a support group that includes other parents, counseling, or a class on parenting. There’s nothing wrong with learning how to be a good parent. Your children love you and need your love in return. Child abuse can be prevented and stopped, no matter how long it has been happening.

The first step is yours.


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