Breaking the Cycle of Anger and Abuse

Bringing up a child is a demanding job. If we have suffered ourselves when young through destructive parenting, it can be devastating to find ourselves hurting our own child in similar ways.

Many declare they will never treat their children the way they were treated. Most with this goal make remarkable improvements.
Yet sometimes, despite our best intentions, we fall short of how we’d like to be. This is understandable,  if we have internalised destructive models of parenting.

The important thing is, if we know we are repeating a negative cycle, we face up to that and take immediate action to stop it.
Angry parenting is destructive parenting. Our children are the precious vehicles of hope for the next generation. They deserve to have the very best beginnings we can give them.

If you are struggling to break the cycle the following suggestions provide a starting point for change. If it proves too difficult to implement these changes alone you need to seek help. There is no shame in this. In fact, having the courage to seek necessary help to stop hurting children is something to be proud of.

Build up the relationship with your child.

Spend quality time together, talking about experiences, sharing activities and having fun. Develop empathy and compassion. Imagine how you would feel in your child’s position and respond gently from that compassionate place.

Avoid getting into power struggles with a rebellious child.

This escalates the conflict. The more calmly, firmly and respectfully you handle the challenges, the more likely the child will take notice.

Understand that there is a big difference between fair discipline and harsh punishment.

Discipline implies a self-controlled lesson in consequences. Harsh punishment more often provides an outlet for the frustration of the parent. This can be damaging to the child.

Never discipline your child while angry.

 It’s very easy to become too punitive in this state. Imagine how frightening it would be, if you were at the mercy of an enraged person twice your size. Wait until you have calmed down and are thinking rationally before attempting to address the issue.

Take a time out to allow yourself to calm down.

At the very least a  time out consists of disenaging from conflict with the child and refocusing your energe into calming down. Ideally it invovles leaving the house and tking a walk if there is someone else available to care for the child. Be sure to let people know that you are taking a time out and when you will be back. Half an hour is usually a suitable cool down time.

Learn to manage anger well.

There are skills we can learn that will help us gain self control. There's a fantastic range of anger management books available in our online bookshop. There are also Living Without Violence Programmes for men throughout New Zealand. Visit the National Network of Stopping Violence Services for more information. Attend a course if necessary.

Learn new parenting skills.

There are parenting courses and support groups available in most communities. Check your Yellow Pages or contact your local Citizen's Advice Bureau. Personal counselling can also help. 

Put things right as quickly as possible.

If you know you’ve been destructive it's vital to take responsibility as soon as possible. Remember the most important thing is the child's wellbeing and safety. Change is possible; you can break the cycle. There is help available but you just need to reach out for it.


© Copyright Kay Douglas. Kay Douglas is a registered psychotherapist, counsellor and life coach. She is also the author of four self-help books: Invisible Wounds, Challenged by Childhood, Living Life Out Loud and Power Games (co-authored with Dr Kim McGregor). She is in private practice in Auckland, New Zealand. For more information please visit

If you would like to use this article in your newsletter or blog or with clients you are welcome  to do so as long as you use the article unchanged and include the copyright and full bio details. I would also appreciate it if you’d let me know how you are using it.

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