Protecting the Kids

Kids are bright. They pick up on things that would surprise adults. Just because they don’t understand what is going on, doesn’t mean they don’t know something is wrong. Often, they are unable to explain what they think, or feel they shouldn’t say anything. They may be afraid that if they put their fears into words, they’ll come true.

But, never underestimate a child’s awareness of discord in the home.

The parent who is dealing with an abusive partner often feel it is possible to protect the kids from the bad effects of the abusive behavior. They assume an impossible balancing act. Perhaps by tip-toeing around the abuser, they can postpone the flare-ups until the kids are in bed. Or, maybe, if they never argue in front of them, the kids will not notice the cold atmosphere in the house. Other parents feel that if the children are not directly involved – it doesn’t affect them.

Dealing with an abusive partner and protecting the kids is a dangerous balancing act. Kids learn from everything that happens to them, everything they see and everything they hear. Let me repeat that: Kids learn from everything that happens. They are like little sponges – soaking up information, emotions, fears, expressions, attitudes and ideas about how life works. They try their best to make sense of things, but often the conclusion they make is wrong – and unhealthy.

For example: kids who see mom and dad yelling at each other may be very upset. They might think they’ve done something wrong. But even if mom and dad reassure them that they didn’t do anything wrong, that mommy and daddy are just upset with each other – the lesson the child learns is that this is the way moms and dads behave. So, guess what happens when the child grows up and gets involved in a relationship? They follow that early example of ‘how to behave.’ This is how abuse passes from one generation to another.

Or they may learn to be tolerant of abuse when it is directed at them. Mom and Dad took it – so it must be okay to tolerate it. Or, if they’ve observed parents fighting each other – the lesson may be that it’s okay to use violence to settle things. These aren’t conscious thoughts, of course, because they took place in the mind of a three year old, or six year old. Their minds processed the information, but not logically.

But, please don’t think the bad lessons come only from physical abuse. All abuse is contagious. Remember: Kids Learn From Everything That Happens To Them or Around Them.

So, although it may be seem possible to balance an abusive relationship and protect the kids from the effects, the balance is an illusion. Eventually, someone falls off the tightrope. Kids become abusive to parents. Kids get in fights at school. Kids tolerate abuse from others.

Take action to get help. Don’t wait for a miracle overnight cure or change of heart. It may come, but probably won’t last long. Or, you may waste your life and your kids’ childhood, waiting for the magic to happen.

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