Treat children with respect

Fighting over the custody of children robs their humanity when they are treated as possessions with no respect for their feelings.

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A child’s future happiness is in their parents’ hands

Ballarat News July 13, 1994

While I was training to become a teacher I was struck by a lecturer’s remark that no matter what we learned about teaching practice, the most powerful model we would use was how we ourselves were taught. This also applies to parenting.

If we were abused as children, it is likely that no matter how caring we are with our own children, repressed pain from abuse can break loose under stress in unguarded moments to terrify and confuse not only our children, but also ourselves. Yet, who do we blame? Do we blame parents who were probably victims of abuse themselves? Their parents? Or the parents before them? I believe that no effective change can be made when blame is present because it stops us from looking at the underlying causes of abuse.

While we focus on the perpetrators of physical (and sexual) abuse and seek to bring them to justice, we ignore other forms of abuse that may be less obvious, but nevertheless leave long-lasting wounds that may never heal.

Some examples of this abuse include:

Verbally abusing a child can strip away their self-esteem and confidence, and erode their sense of self-worth.

Withdrawing love as a way of getting a child to do what we want him or her to do can develop into a fear of being abandoned and/or turn a child into a ‘people pleaser’ in order to gain love and acceptance.

Not allowing children to express their anger or other feelings can cause ongoing problems in adult relationships.

Treating a child as a surrogate ’spouse’ where a parent burdens them with their problems and seeks their emotional support can create ‘special children’ who later develop anxiety and personality disorders.

Fighting over children in a court of law after a marriage breakdown robs them of their humanity when they are treated as possessions with no respect for their feelings.

Pushing children to achieve can turn them into underachievers who lose their love of learning.

Parents wanting their children to live out their own unfulfilled dreams deny them the opportunity to live life for themselves.

One of our common misconceptions is that children are resilient. However, because they don’t have the emotional tools to integrate the hurt caused by abusive adults, they often suppress their feelings as the first line of defence. But suppressed feelings get carried around with them as unwanted baggage to prevent them from achieving their full potential, robbing them of happiness, peace, and joy.

From my experiences as a counsellor I discovered that a wounded child exists within most parents – often unacknowledged or beyond their awareness. When parents do not heal this inner wounded child they can often abuse their own children in the same way they themselves were abused. This is one of the reasons our present child abuse problems escalate into increased violence within our society on all socio-economic levels, taking us further away from the ability to experience peace within ourselves and our society.

By healing the pain that is buried within childhood, we learn to empathise with the pain our children suffer. As we learn to love and care for the child within ourselves, we are better able to love and care for children in our care and treat them with the respect they deserve as fellow human beings.