wikiHow to Deal With Abusive Parents

Four Parts:Getting HelpKeeping Yourself SafeDealing with Abuse in the Long-TermUsing Coping Skills

Child abuse, although common, is a serious issue and can be life-threatening. If you or someone you know is dealing with abusive parents it is crucial to get help (both immediate and long-term), to keep yourself safe, and to work toward coping in healthy ways.

Part 1
Getting Help

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    Take action if you or someone you know is in immediate danger. If you are being physically harmed, or your life is in danger, call emergency services immediately.[1]
    • Signs that you may be in immediate danger include: if someone is threatening to harm or abuse you in a serious way (such as if they are yelling that they are going to hit you or harm you in another way), if that person has a weapon or object, if you are being chased with an intent to harm you, if you are fearful about your safety, and if you are currently being hurt physically or abused by another.
    • Emergency operators are trained to talk you through these situations. They can send law enforcement or a medical response team to assist you.
    • Law enforcement are also typically trained to deal with these situations. They will most likely speak to you in person and ask you questions about your situation in order to determine ways to deal with the issue.
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    Identify if you are experiencing abuse. In order to get help you need to know if what you are experiencing is actually abuse or normal parenting. Child abuse is defined in terms of physical harm, sexual abuse, emotional harm, and neglect.[2]
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    Understand physical abuse. Physical injury related to abuse is anything that causes bodily harm including: hitting, punching, slapping, or any other action that can leave a mark. This type of abuse can be conveyed to a mandated reporter (teacher, therapist, etc), your local department of child/family services, or law enforcement (sheriffs, police). [3]
    • Common signs of physical abuse include: unexplainable injuries or markings (bruises, cuts, sores), injuries that do not match up with the explanation of the situation, fearful or timid behaviors (looking around frequently, alert), easily scared or startled, and expression of fears of family situations.[4][5] Other indicators may include: extreme changes in sleeping, eating, social, or academic behaviors. [6] The child may also begin engaging in unsafe behaviors such as using drugs or alcohol.
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    • Under federal law in the United States, spanking to the buttocks is not considered abuse unless injuries occur (such as welts, bruises).[7]
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    Recognize child sexual abuse. Sexual abuse against a child includes touching/petting of a child's private parts, sexual contact with a child, intercourse or other sexual acts, or exposing a child to sexual imagery or content.[8]]
    • Common signs of child sexual abuse are: an understanding of sex which is too mature for the child's age, seductive behaviors or developmentally inappropriate interest in sex, difficulty sitting or standing/walking, avoiding a particular individual for an unknown reason, embarrassment of one's body or avoidance of changing in locker room or at home, and running away from home.[9]
    • Additional signs could be if the child uses substances such as drugs or alcohol, becomes pregnant or develops sexually transmitted infections.
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    Know about neglect. Neglect is defined by not providing the child with the necessities of life including food, clothing, shelter, and medical treatment.
    • Signs of neglect include if the child: is visibly unclean or smells bad, wears clothes that do not fit or are inappropriate for the weather, has poor hygiene, and has medical or physical issues that are not treated.[10] Other warning signs are if the child is left alone for long periods of time without adult supervision, or if the child is missing or late to school often.
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    Understand emotional abuse. Emotional or verbal abuse includes: yelling, shaming, threatening, calling names, belittling, and other verbal acts that can cause psychological harm.[11]
    • Indicators and warning signs of verbal abuse are if the child is: socially withdrawn, lacking attachment to the guardian or parent, having feelings of shame or guilt, worrying about his behaviors, and behaving in extreme ways that are abnormal for the child (such as very compliant/shy or very obstinate/argumentative, or acting above or below his age).[12]
    • Domestic violence is also an issue. If a child witnesses violence in the family this is a reportable concern.
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    Reduce self-blame. It is common for individuals who have survived abuse to blame themselves for the abuse or justify the situation. Realize that abuse is not your fault. Understand that if your situation falls into any of the four types of abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, neglect), this is not acceptable and you do not deserve to be treated this way no matter what.[13]
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    Report the abuse. Notifying an adult other than the abuser is the most important part of dealing with abusive parents. Abuse is not something that is easily dealt with on your own. You can contact a trusted adult, mandated reporter (teacher, therapist), Child Protective Services or law enforcement.[14][15][16][17]
    • Child Protective Services staff and other government agency personnel are trained to deal with these types of situations.They will ask you questions and tell you what to expect.
    • Your local law enforcement or governing agency will most likely conduct an investigation and you and certain members of your family may be interviewed.
    • Reporting the abuse can result in a social worker being involved in your case and may require that you and your parents receive education or counseling. Worst case scenario is that you would be removed from the home for your own safety. In this case, children are typically placed under foster care until the abusive situation is resolved.

Part 2
Keeping Yourself Safe

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    Make a plan to protect yourself. Creating a safety plan is important to both keeping yourself out of danger and preventing future abuse.[18] Your plan should include warning signs, how to escape, places to go, and people to talk to.
    • Write down the plan.[19] It is difficult to keep this information in your head, so as you go about making your plan make sure you write down each step.
    • If you feel unsafe or believe that abuse is about to occur, engage your safety plan immediately.
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    Identify warning signs. It is important to know early if an abusive situation is likely to occur so that you can remain safe, take action or get away. Some situations that are often associated with abuse include: alcohol and/or drug use, heightened anger or stress, relationship issues, and domestic violence.[20] However, if you feel that you are in imminent danger, you need to escape the situation, get to a phone, and call emergency services.
    • Remember that anger is okay, but violence or abuse is never okay.
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    Plan how to get away. You do not deserve to be abused and if it is about to occur it is important that you keep yourself safe from abuse or harm. Identify possible situations that may occur based on what has happened in the past (type of and nature of abuse).
    • Identify common places in which the abuse may occur. If abuse has happened in a particular room, make sure you have an easy exit out of that room (whether it be a door, window, etc). Make sure there are no pieces of furniture or other objects that may get in your way.
    • Do not attempt to hide in your own home. This can cause you to get stuck somewhere and not be able to get away to a safe place.
    • Identify escape routes out of your home. Many apartment buildings have fire escape plan posted; you can learn the fastest way to exit your building. Use stairs instead of the elevator.
    • Understand how to unlock windows and doors, as well as where important keys are to your home.
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    Plan where to go. Identify specific safe places to go to if you are in danger such as a neighbor or friend's house.[21] Make sure these individuals are in on your plan and note when they are usually home vs. when they are not.
    • Identify the fastest and safest way to get to your safe place. If you can run, do so. If you have easy access to transportation that you are legally allowed to operate, use it (car, skateboard, bike, etc).
    • Have several back up plans in case you cannot go to your specific safe place. For example, identify close public places that are open 24 hours or have easy phone access.
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    Plan who to talk to. Identify safe individuals such as close friends and family members who will keep you away from harm or intervene if you are in trouble.[22]
    • Keep important phone numbers such as emergency contacts on you at all times.
    • When you get to your safe place you can call for additional help (emergency services or your local police station) if needed.

Part 3
Dealing with Abuse in the Long-Term

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    Understand the effects of abuse. Child abuse can lead to many difficulties including: shame, guilt, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).[23] Additionally, your parents’ actions have formed who you are, what you think about yourself and what you think is normal behavior. Therefore, it can be difficult to know what a healthy parent-child relationship should look like. If your daily actions are based in fear of being hurt or put down, something needs to change. You are a worthy human being and deserve to be happy.
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    Express your feelings. A natural instinct when dealing with situations you can’t control is to try to "hide," but expressing your emotions may be helpful to your well-being.
    • Start by talking to a friend. This might feel like a difficult thing to do, but gathering up your courage to do it can be life changing. It may help you deal with the situation and make your friendship even stronger.
    • Keep a journal. This will help you express your feelings and situation you're in so you can find the best course of action.
    • Another way to express your feelings is to talk to other people in your situation.
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    Talk to a trusted adult. Adults can not only give you support, but can also help you come up with an action plan. It's okay to be angry or afraid. Talk about how you feel and why. Good people to talk to are:
    • Your teacher
    • Your school guidance counselor or therapist
    • Your best friend's parent
    • Another relative you trust
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    Consider therapy. If you notice negative changes in your thoughts (worrying about being abused), feelings (sad, fearful) or behaviors (avoiding certain situations) it may be helpful to get a professional opinion.[24] Other signs you may need treatment are if you are not doing well in school or are neglecting activities you previously enjoyed.
    • If your abusive situation has been reported to law enforcement then your governing agency may already require that you and your parents engage in therapy. It is important to be open to this experience and know that your therapist is there to help you.
    • If you are not currently in treatment you can talk to your medical doctor about getting a referral to a therapist.
    • If you are under the age of 18, your legal guardian (parent or otherwise) must provide consent for you to engage in treatment.[25] Your legal guardian would be required to sign the appropriate paperwork when you first meet with a therapist.
    • If you do not feel comfortable talking to your parents about getting treatment you can speak to another trusted adult or family member, or your school guidance counselor.

Part 4
Using Coping Skills

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    Understand coping. Coping skills are ways that you can feel better or deal with a situation more effectively. Having more coping skills to reduce feeling overwhelmed or out of control is associated with a better outcome for individuals who have survived abusive situations.[26]
    • Coping skills can be fun and entertaining such as: listening to music, watching movies, and playing games or sports.
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    Deal with your feelings. Reduce the intensity of your emotions, discharge your feelings, divide them into manageable parts, or get outside support. Some specific coping skills for dealing with feelings include: writing them down, using art to express them, and exercising to release tension in the body.[27]
    • Pretend your abuser is sitting in a chair and say what you want to say. Yell, scream, curse -- let it all out.
    • Write a letter of confrontation to your abuser. You do not need to send it but this may help you process and work through some of your feelings.
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    Use relaxation techniques, mindfulness, or meditation. Relaxation techniques have been linked to lowered stress levels.[28]
    • Progressive muscle relaxation is one technique where you progressively tense and relax different muscle groups throughout your body until you become relaxed. Start with tensing your toes for 5 seconds, then relax them for10- 30 seconds. Then move slowly up your body all the way to the top of you head (from toes, to feet, to legs, and so on).[29]
    • Deep breathing is another option where you simply breathe deeply through your nose, and breathe out through your mouth. Pay attention to your breathing and when you get distracted return to thinking only about your breathing.[30]
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    Identify unhelpful coping strategies and limit them. Some strategies that are unhelpful in the long-term include: blaming the self, minimizing the abuse (saying or thinking it was not that bad), denial, and rationalizing (thinking that the abuse was normal or okay).[31]
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    Work on controlling other parts of your life. Focus on what you can control instead of what you cannot control.[32]
    • Focus on your own goals such as doing well in school or learning how to play a sport or instrument.
    • Focus on your own hopes and dreams. Think about what you want to become and start getting information about it or working toward it.


  • Don't blame yourself. If your parents abuse you, it may be because they were abused by their own parents, and they know nothing else. They need the same help you do.
  • Find something to take your mind off it. Thinking the situation over and over isn't going to help at all. Pick up an instrument, blast out some music, or if you're more creative you could try a Calming Jar. Whatever you do, try your best to forget what happened.


  • Run to the house of someone you know and call emergency services or your local police emergency line if your parents abuse you in ANY way resulting in a life or death emergency.

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Categories: Dealing with Conflict with Parents | Child Abuse