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4/14 Interactive Board: Codependent Partners

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6/12 Interactive Board: Unintentional Abuse

11/7 Interactive Board: Is This Abusive?

12/29 Interactive Board: There Goes the Wife...

11/4 Interactive Board: A New Me!

10/8 Interactive Board: Seeming Impossibility

9/8 Interactive Board: My Ex MisTreats Our Son

5/1 Interactive Board: I feel Dead - Towards Him

4/26 Interactive Board: Why is This So Hard?

4/19 Interactive Board: I Lost My Love...

4/7 Interactive Board: Too Guilty!

End 4 Generations of Abuse

I Want To End 4 Generations of Abuse 

June 27, 2000

Dear Dr. Irene:

I am shocked!  I never thought I would see the day that my husband is actually becoming so much better, and I am now seeing my 10 year old son mimicking his father's past behavior!!!  Good for your hubby!

I am aware of  a normal child and their "power plays" at this age to try and become independent, but this is different.  When he is frustrated or not "getting his way," he is lashing out at me just as his father used to. Actually repeating some of the things my husband once said to me.  

Obviously, almost 10 years of his life he had to live through this in the home - and this is what he was taught. Apparently he was a good "student." This behavior just came out of nowhere, though.  He was always such a mature, sweet boy who would do anything and everything to try and make me happy.  I have started to set boundaries with him, just as I did with my husband.  I tell him things like "if you continue to speak to me this way, you will lose a privilege, etc.".  Good!

The problem is, is that I feel so guilty punishing him for this.  I feel it is so unfair that this poor kid had to suffer through such a dysfunctional, verbally abusive childhood, and that it is cruel to "punish" him for the only way he was taught to control his temper and respond to situations.  I think you'd better deal with your guilt. It is not helping your child.

I had always hoped that my influence along the way would show him the correct way to act.  I have to do something quick in order to stop 4 generations of verbal abuse.  I want my son to know how to properly treat his wife and children when he is older, and I am hoping that he is still young enough to turn around.  I have to find a way to let go of the guilt because I know that I have a job to do here. Yes! Please, if you can offer any advise, I would greatly appreciate it.  Keep reading...

I have researched this and cannot find anything that talks about this. I have been so happy that my husband has come such a long way since I started "therapy" on your site, that it is truly breaking my heart to have to start again with my child.  I know you are very busy with a slew of letters so even if you cannot answer my letter perhaps you may be able to tell me where to find some books on this.  None of my boundary books hone in on a small child following in the footsteps of their parent.  Thanks again!  Keri

Dear Keri, Yes, your son is behaving the way he was taught to behave. And, good for you for setting limits for him. But, take the guilt and throw it out the window. Did you know that children need boundaries? Did you know that even though kids apparently love to be able to do as they want, they do not feel safe when no one is setting limits for them? It's scary to be able to do anything... where does it stop? Your child is learning to set boundaries for himself. You help him when you set limits for him - and stick with the consequences as you helped your husband when you did same for him. Expect your child to test your limits - just as your husband did. Dump the guilt so you can follow through; your child will learn to trust you

Also, this should help you dump the guilt: Your son has learned that anger is power. He watched daddy get his way for years. And if daddy's anger took away from him, which it had to in a variety of ways, your son is angry with you at some level for not putting daddy in his place. Well, you put daddy in his place, now you have to put your son in his place - otherwise he is likely to grow up with a measure of contempt towards you and others he perceives as "weak." I can't think of a better reason in the world to get strong and follow through on reasonable consequences!

You don't mention your husband's position in all this. I always tell my parents that it doesn't matter what they agree on - as long as they agree. Consistency is very, very important. Without agreement, your kid "splits" you and dad, manipulating both of you to get his way. Very, very destructive and emotionally very, very unsafe for your kid.

I don't know of any books that specifically relate parental discipline to verbal abuse per se, but that's not a problem. All these principles and more are covered in Canter & Canter's Assertive Discipline for Children. Read it with your husband, or at least tell him about what you are learning. This is the best book I know. 

It is a workbook that teaches parents how to discipline without becoming emotionally involved (e.g., mommy gets sad or daddy gets mad when kid does such and such). Emotional discipline puts too much pressure on your child to perform to make mom happy, or keep dad calm, etc. Kid's shouldn't have to be burdened by having to watch out for their parent's emotional issues. This trains codependency. You are taught the verbal skills for unemotional delivery of consequences. 

 You are taught how to give your child choices - which have "good" or "bad" consequences associated with them. This is a wonderful technique that will help counteract the control issues inherent in the abusive household. Your child has fewer reasons to rebel or otherwise act out when he can make choices. He is also learning the building blocks of personal responsibility. In fact, the book encourages you to involve the child. He is likely to "own" his consequences if he has a hand in helping to make up the rules ahead of time. Making up the rules ahead of time has the added benefit of counteracting the lack of consistency in abusive homes, where the child doesn't know what to expect. 

You are also taught that rewards increase the probability of good behaviors - and how to set them up to help create incentive for your child to do his very, very best.

If you and your husband can literally memorize this book and work with it, your child can only benefit from the benevolent, consistent, and firm parenting skills it teaches. (Ps: You can also use some of the techniques on your hubby!) Good luck Keri. Dr. Irene

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Material posted here is intended for educational purposes only, and must not be considered a substitute for informed advice from your own health care provider.

Courtesy of Dr. Irene Matiatos  Copyrightę 2000. The material on this website may be distributed freely for non-commercial or educational purposes provided that author credit is given. For commercial distribution, please contact the author at