Last week we talked about child abuse and considered one hypothesis about possible dynamics involved in at least some cases. Let’s look at another dimension to the problem of child abuse.

Years ago I was talking with the Director of a daycare facility. This particular daycare was registered with the local Juvenile Court, and children who had been removed from a parent’s care for safety were often placed in the facility during the day. The Director was sharing some of her observations in her facility of toddler-age kids (around 2) who had been removed from physically-abusive homes.

She said, “We often have a child who gets frustrated about something, angry over a toy, or any of a number of things, and starts crying. A lot of times one of the other kids shows some concern. I’ve seen them go to a crying kid and offer a toy, or ask, ‘What’s wrong?’ in a soothing way. Never, however….never have I seen a child from an abusive home behave in any sympathetic way toward another child. Right now we have two children from abused homes who have been placed with us by the courts. Just the other day, a child was pounding some blocks together and accidentally hit her finger. She was really crying and I noticed how many of our kids were looking over to see what was going on. Three or four actually came over and acted like they wanted to help the staff member who was comforting the child. The two abused kids? One was totally ignoring the commotion and going on with his playing; the other came over and shoved the crying child, shouting, ‘Shut up or I’ll beat you!’ I thought, my God, the kid is already a child abuser and he’s only 2!” Later she added, “You want to produce adult child abusers? Abuse them when they’re children!”

Years ago I was home one afternoon when I heard a crash against the front door and lots of yelling. I ran and opened the door and there was our 9-year old daughter, just home from school, and another girl I didn’t know, who ran when I opened the door. Our house was just a few yards from the school bus stop, and apparently the girl had chased our daughter right onto our porch and shoved her pretty good before I arrived.

Our daughter told me this girl regularly bullied her on the school bus, and this day decided to chase her. She said the girl lived just a block away and gave me her last name. “Oh, great,” I thought, “I’ve got to call this girl’s parents about this and complain.” I would rather navigate a mine field than confront parents I didn’t know. After all, some parents attack coaches who don’t play their kids enough! But then I looked at my panicky daughter……………

The girl’s last name and street was in the phone book, so I dialed the number (this was around 1979, guys!). I introduced myself and confirmed that this was the mother of the girl. I said, “Ma’am, your daughter just chased my daughter down the street to our house and attacked her right on our porch! We really need to do something about this”

“Well,” she said with clear anger in her tone, “my daughter just got home and told me how your daughter said I was a whore! What about that?” I thought, “Damn, this is going downhill in a hurry.”

“Ma’am, I promise you, I will talk to my daughter and guarantee that she will never say anything like that about you again. I apologize and understand why you’re upset. I would be, too.” [I know, you’re ready to barf but remember, if you want to soothe the wild beast, you need to play soft music.] “But, the fact is,” I continued, “We can’t have your daughter on our porch attacking our daughter. It’s not right.”

Pause. Silence. Was she loading the cannon for battle? Was she looking for her 6’6” 250lb husband to tell him to get the rifle out of the closet? My life was flashing before my eyes!

Finally, she calmly said, “You know something, I wish that last year I had done what you just did. Last year there was this older girl who bullied our daughter all the time, especially on the bus. I should have done what you did…..I should have called her mother and said we needed to do something. Instead, I just told our daughter to complain to the driver and sit as far from this girl as she could. I don’t believe it. Now she’s doing to your daughter what happened to her last year.”

For the next 5 minutes or so we commiserated about the impossible challenges facing parents. I made sure I showered her with understanding, still concerned she was married to the incredible hulk who would love to take me apart limb by limb. We worked out a good plan that presented consistent for the kids from their parents. I never talked to her again, and neither daughter ever again bothered the other again.

These two stories make the same point about child abuse: Being abused as a child will increase the odds that you will abuse children as an adult. How come? Just taking the first step in trying to answer that question will require some effort, so I’ll hold off until the next post.

One thought on “”

  1. I think someone who has been abused or bullied and then turns around and does it to someone else has something wrong with the empathetic part of their brain. I would think experiencing something like that would cause you to be even more abhorrent to that type of behavior and to want to treat others extra kind. This being said, I think it would only apply to people over a certain age with developed brains. I doubt you can blame a two year old for not being empathetic. Nevertheless, the observed behavior of the abused children is interesting. Makes you wonder if they would act differently were they not from that environment, or if their personalities are ingrained from birth.


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