Breaking the Cycle of Child Abuse

by Barbara Burrell

Brandon was born healthy and normal on August 27, 1992. When he was five weeks old, his biological father shook him hard enough that his brain began to hemorrhage. Brandon was taken to surgery where ninety percent of his left temporal lobe – the cognitive, speaking, and fine motor skills part of the brain – was removed.

Later, a judge sentenced Brandon’s father to eight years in prison for child abuse. But that father had handed down a “life sentence” of his own: His son would never reach the capacity for intelligence and physical freedom he was born with.

The doctor said that if Brandon survived the surgery, he might have a permanent mental state between one and six months. Even so, if Brandon had to be physically abused, the timing was right, because the growing nerves to his brain could develop further to partially compensate for the portion of brain removed.

‘The Miracle Home’

Brandon was on a respirator for one week, then placed in the foster home of Dale and Karen Hendershott. There he received increased attention, affection, and prayer. Karen and Dale took Brandon to church and asked the elders to anoint him and pray.

Now more than two years later, Brandon is alert and happy and is making steady progress. The Hendershotts have adopted him as one of their four children. Karen says she is blessed to have a special child like Brandon.

Brandon’s overall developmental status at present is between eighteen and twenty-four months. He speaks a few words and, after perfecting his own brand of scooting for awhile, has begun to walk. His mother takes him to occupational, speech, and physical therapy several days a week. His progress continues to amaze doctors. In fact, social workers have referred to the Hendershott household as “the miracle home.”

Several factors have contributed to Brandon’s remarkable recovery and progress: God’s touch, therapy, advances in the medical field, and the home that loves him with no strings attached. Though Brandon’s tragic story has turned out for good, the abuse could have been averted had his father known how to control himself.

The Big Picture

Child abuse is not a pretty picture. According to the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse, 3.1 million cases of child abuse were reported in the United States in 1995. The categories of abuse were physical (26%), sexual (10%), negligence (53%), emotional (3%), and other, including abandonment (7%). The juvenile homes and disrupted classrooms of our nations are full of the victims. Therefore, it is critical that all parents consider how they are affecting their children.

All of us are influenced, for good or bad, by everything we’ve experienced from conception to the present. On the negative side, our progress toward fully functional adulthood has been hindered by the dysfunctions and imperfections of many others – our parents, in particular. But it is rarely helpful to spend much time or energy blaming the previous generation; we will likely pass on as much damage, or more, than we received. We can change our descendants more easily than we can our ancestors. Therefore, this article’s focus is on passing the most good to our children, with the least harm possible.

Admit the Problem

What can parents do to avoid transferring offensive traits to their children? How can we break the cycle of abuse and give our kids their best chance at wholeness?

First, fathers and mothers can begin by admitting they have a problem. The parenting job is tough; there are no perfect parents! We have all received a less-than-perfect influence from our fathers and/or mothers, and we pass on a less-than-perfect influence. Therefore, grace, mercy, and forgiveness are important for every generation – and in both directions!

The spirit of the gospel of Christ in our homes is our greatest asset in overcoming natural tendencies to hurt those we love most. Perhaps the greatest trait parents can model for their children is a quickness to forgive the errors of others and a quickness to ask forgiveness for their own errors. To fail in this is to abuse our children!

Become Aware

More than just admitting our imperfection, however, we need to become aware of our specific tendencies as parents and of what impact we’re having at home. The problem is, we are often blind to our failures in this area. If parents think their parenting style is flawless, they should be courageous enough to ask their children and spouse for a more objective evaluation. If those you live with fear to tell you the truth, you are already in deep trouble!

Are you willing to acknowledge a problem with temper or a failure to affirm your children as you ought? Do you punish your children more severely than necessary? Do you withhold the approval and affection for which they long, causing them to question your love – and God’s? Do you make statements like “How dumb. What did you do that for?” or “You’ll never amount to anything!” or “I’m ashamed of you!”?

Take Action

When we have become aware of our tendencies to damage our children in specific ways, then we are ready to take action. For many parents, this will mean a series of minor corrections, rather than a major overhaul. Still, no change is easy for most adults. To improve our parenting even in small ways will require our focused effort.

If our parenting problems are more severe, they probably stem from our own childhood or adolescent trauma. If we were overly punished or beaten when young, we may feel it proper to give our children the same type of discipline. The anger we suppressed while receiving such punishment may erupt when we are correcting our children. When we lose control, correction steps over the line to abuse. In such cases, we may need counseling or a support group to help us process and heal from our past. Please be willing to ask for help from a spouse, pastor, or close friend.


It is a coveted mark of spiritual maturity to keep our emotions in check and to never correct a child in anger. Brandon’s father probably never thought he would hurt his own son, but he lost control. Could we, too, lose composure and severely damage our children? By the help of God and our own admission, awareness, and action, we can avoid finding ourselves in such a situation.

Most parents want to be good parents. They want to instill a sense of belonging, worthiness, and confidence in their children. We can only impart these traits if we possess them ourselves. We need to see ourselves as God does: loved and forgiven. He doesn’t see the ugliness of the past, but a fully lovable child of God instead.

Our children will survive most of life’s hurts if they know they are unconditionally loved and cared for by their parents. Let’s do a parent’s part: Cherish, protect, and value children as one of the great gifts we have received from the Lord. “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord” (Psalm 127:3, NKJV).

Referrals for Abuse

Hopeful Hands and Persevering