What Causes Parents to Abuse Their Child?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that state and local authorities investigated 3.7 million cases of suspected child abuse in 2008. Child abuse is not only physical violence, it also includes emotional abuse and neglect, all of which leave lasting scars because children grow up in a state of fear and without the clear boundaries they need for healthy psychological and social development, according to HelpGuide.org. Prevent Child Abuse New York notes that most child abuse occurs when parents are unable to cope with stress factors in their lives. Child abuse is not limited to certain sectors of society; it crosses all social, economic and ethnic lines.

Parent's Childhood

Adults who suffered abuse or ill treatment in childhood are more likely to abuse their own children because the family model they grew up with is flawed, according to HelpGuide.org. Similarly, the Oregon State University Extension Service says that if parents grew up with harsh methods of discipline, they may be more prone to violence. Parenting classes and therapy can provide insights to help such parents to fill the gap in their knowledge of parenting and develop strategies for dealing with the stressful aspects of raising children.

Unrealistic Expectations

Some people enter into parenthood with unrealistic expectations and they may be surprised at the amount of care and attention that infants and children need. This is particularly true of teen parents or immature adults. Oregon State University Extension Service points out that parents also may become abusive if they are resentful of a child who is handicapped or difficult to handle because he requires more time and attention than they expected. Caregiver support groups, therapy and parenting classes may be helpful to such parents.

Lack of Support

Because parenting is stressful, parents without support from family and friends may be more likely to abuse their children, according to HelpGuide.org. Hotlines--usually available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week--may be helpful for parents who need an emotional outlet or a sympathetic ear. Some emergency shelters for abused children offer parents the option to drop off children for a while when they feel they can't cope with them. These shelters also will take care of children while parents receive treatment.

Alcohol And Drug Abuse

HelpGuide.org states that alcohol and drug abuse often lead to child abuse because these substances cause people to lose self-control. Parents who engage in substance abuse are almost three times more likely to abuse their children and four times more likely to neglect them, according to Prevent Child Abuse New York. Children of single parent alcoholics or drug users are at even greater risk because there is no second parent to diffuse the situation or protect the child from abuse.

Emotional Disorders

Parents who struggle with anxiety disorder, depression, bipolar disorder or other mental illnesses are less able to cope with the stresses of parenting and may be more likely to engage in child abuse, according to HelpGuide.org. People with these disorders have difficulty caring for themselves and are even less able to care for others. They may be withdrawn and neglectful or quick to anger and more prone to physical violence. Treatment of the disorder will improve coping abilities and decrease the chances of child abuse.