Here’s How I Deal with Parenting Triggers as a Survivor of Child Abuse

For me, it wasn’t happenstance that the torment, the barrage of verbal, mental, and physical abuse tarnishing my childhood, started around the time I discovered the might of my own voice. Growing up as a Black girl trying to navigate the perplexities of the world around me, the stern Christian principles that defined my upbringing didn’t leave much room for dispute, inquisitiveness, or even the simple chatter of an energetic youngster. This rigid backdrop often makes me ponder, how to deal with parenting triggers as a survivor of child abuse? – a question crucial for survivors like me who are now in the parenting seat.

The abuse was constant, and I was also left alone emotionally. I had to learn to cope with my feelings of grief and worry as a very sensitive child on my own. I had to get away from home after a terrible argument. That’s when I realized I could break free from my abusive family once and for all.

I didn’t know then that the bad things that happened to me as a child would greatly affect how I raised my own kids. I never wanted them to go through what I had, but sometimes being a parent set me off. The good news is that experts say parents who have been abused as children can deal with triggers in ways that don’t hurt their children and help them heal.

When I became a parent, I decided to go to intensive, long-term therapy to heal myself and make sure I didn’t repeat mistakes from my youth. I found out that treatment is key. Kadesha Adelakun, a licensed clinical social worker and registered play therapist in Georgia, says, “As a parent, it can be very helpful to get your own therapy to help you deal with past abuse and deal with triggers that may come from your child.”

Going to therapy and talking to other parents helped me realize that I wasn’t alone. Thanks to this support, I was able to end the cycle of abuse that had been plaguing my family for generations. My goal has always been to raise my kids in a way that doesn’t involve abuse or suffering, and I work hard every day to make that happen for my family.

Here are the four main causes that come up in my parenting (and are common for people who were abused as children) and what to do about each one.

Kids Who Are Hitting Each Other And Screaming

Because I was hit and yelled at a lot as a child, this can sometimes set me off. But when a kid yells and hits, it’s often because they want to connect and feel overwhelmed. When this happens, and I feel like I can’t handle it, I usually ask my partner to help. It’s my way of getting away from what’s going on.

Adelakun says, “As long as your child isn’t in a place where they can hurt themselves or others, and depending on their age, it’s sometimes best to leave the area (e.g., go into a different room).” If you can’t leave the room, you could give your child a pillow to hit or yell into.

But it’s important to talk to your child, whether you live with them or not. “Children can sometimes feel afraid when a parent’s behavior changes or seems strange,” says Vivian France, Ph.D., a licensed clinical mental health counselor in North Carolina who specializes in resolving conflicts between parents and children. “Kids have a right to feel loved and secure in their environments. Even when you’re down, they don’t have to be afraid of you.”

Instead of saying, “Stop yelling!” parents should say, “Voices are not for yelling.” “Words are not meant to hurt.” Your use of “I feel” expressions might be an excellent example for your children. I’d appreciate it if you didn’t yell at me.”

Kids’ Inability to Predict How They’ll Feel

My kids can quickly go from being very happy to being very upset. Even though this is normal for a young child, it reminds me of how my parents’ anger would come out of the blue.

As I’ve already said, therapy has made me more open and helped me understand that kids need space to talk about how they feel. I’ve also noticed that when my kids’ basic needs aren’t met, their moods tend to change quickly. When they’ve eaten, slept, and felt heard, they can better deal with their feelings. “Knowing what makes your child angry can help you be ready for any aggressive behavior they might show,” says Adelakun.

Instead of asking, “Why are you being so difficult?” try saying, “I know you’re feeling a lot right now. Let’s take a break and talk about this again later. Why don’t we find something to eat or drink?

Sometimes It’s Important to Put Kids’ Needs First

This can be hard for those of us who have been emotionally ignored. I try to set aside time for myself on a regular basis, so I’m better prepared for times when my kids’ needs have to come first. I find small but important ways to support and put my own needs first in our family life. I read a book just for the fun of it. I always make time to talk with my friends. I make sure I have my best snacks just for me. When I’m washing my hair and doing a massage, I put on Rihanna.

When you need your own space, it’s important to talk to your kids on their level and help them see things from your perspective. You might feel like saying, “I can’t deal with you right now.” Change what you say to something like, “I’m having a hard day today. I love you a lot, but I need some time to myself right now. Can we find you something quiet to do by yourself?”

Not Having Dependable Grandparents

I haven’t talked to my parents in about ten years. Although it is difficult for me to raise my children without the help of my parents, my partner and I have taken steps to ensure that they have a strong and loving family network around them. I also explain to my kids why their grandparents don’t live with us. Dr. France says that the best way to do this is to talk to your kids in an upbeat way. If you want to avoid stating words like “Grandma and Grandpa are not good people,” try something like, “Right now, until things get better, which I hope they will, we have to love Grandma and Grandpa from a distance.”

Lastly, asking for help when you’re too busy is okay. I can’t say this enough. Do whatever you have to do to stay safe. If you have a parenting partner, ask them to take over, or call a friend and ask them to come over and help. Put on your child’s favorite show if you need to and take some time for yourself.


Parenting is hard, and you can’t look at a guidebook for help. If you haven’t already, go to therapy and know that you’re no longer alone. As adult survivors who are also parents, we are doing something we don’t know how to do because we are raising our children differently than we were. That’s a steep learning curve, but it will help you become a better parent for yourself and your kids. Keep at it.

Meaningful articles you might like: How to Handle Your “Terrible Twos”, What Parents Should Know About Teen Substance Abuse, Depression’s Impact on Children and Families