Generally, when we think of abuse, we come at it from the victim’s perspective. We look for signs we should have recognized and ways we can support them. It’s less common to consider things from the perspective of the abuser’s family, but often someone who abuses a significant other may have shown warning signs or a similar pattern within their own family with a parent or sibling.
As you’re gathering for the holidays this year, think about your children’s behavior, and if you’re concerned, here are some warning signs of abuse to look for and steps you can take.
Intimidation and Retaliation
It’s totally normal for kids, especially teens, to test boundaries and push to get what they want. It’s not normal if you’re afraid of retaliation for saying no. If your child regularly harms you, threatens you, throws things at you or damages property when they don’t get what they want, this is a major red flag that you shouldn’t ignore.
Extreme Rule Breaking
Most kids will break the rules at some point, but a child or teen who routinely ignores and defies rules without fear of consequence, or who escalates to physical violence when you enforce rules is not “normal” teen behavior.
Escalation and Violence
Parents and kids argue, and siblings are known to scuffle. The occasional screaming match, slammed door, or smashed belonging is par for the course, but if this is a regular pattern of behavior, there’s reason to be concerned. Other warning signs of abusive behavior include shoving, throwing things with the intention of hitting you, and making verbal or physical threats.
What You Can Do
Take a Step Back
Taking an unbiased look at our own children is extremely difficult, but try to think about how you’d feel if someone else acted in the same way. Would it be okay? If the answer is no, then it’s not okay behavior in your child either.
It’s important to remember that domestic violence doesn’t discriminate against age, race, gender or any other trait. A child can abuse a parent or a sibling regardless of age and physical size, and these types of situations are often under-reported.
Parents especially may feel that they’re to blame, or that it wouldn’t happen if they were a “better” parent. This guilt and shame is part of the cycle of silence and control, and an unfortunate hallmark of abuse. The first step is to admit that there’s a problem. Extreme and abusive behavior is not normal. It’s not a phase or something your child will grow out of over time.
Set Boundaries and Follow Through
Tell your child it’s not okay to scream at, push or hit you, or other family members, and make sure you communicate consequences for these actions that you follow through on — these could be things like restricting spending money, access to the family car or extracurricular activities.
Don’t Be Afraid to Get Support
Knowing or suspecting that your child is abusive is an extremely difficult and stressful experience for any parent. If you don’t know what to do, or don’t have anyone you feel you can confide in, call the National Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE to speak with an advocate.
If you or a family member is in physical danger and there’s a legal or safety issue, as hard as it may be, the best thing to do is to report it to the police. A child or teen who repeatedly engages in this type of behavior will likely continue it in future relationships — with someone they’re dating, a spouse or even their own children. Reporting it now could prevent these situations in the future.