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How do I Handle an Abusive Parent?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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The question of how to handle an abusive parent depends on the person inquiring. For some professionals like teachers, therapists, and physicians, who are mandated by their government to report abuse, there are specific rules on how to make a report. For them, failing to report abuse can be criminal. The person who is not mandated to report abuse faces a different set of issues because, while there may not be specific laws requiring intervention, allowing abuse to continue can be unconscionable, and sometimes direct and immediate intervention is necessary.

This latter group, made up of average citizens, definitely needs advice on how to handle an abusive parent, though generally the first guideline is to avoid direct contact with that parent. For safety’s sake, people need to consider whether intervening in some direct way could result in personal harm. An abuser is, after all, physically abusing a child. That person has to be viewed as posing potential danger.

Unless the average citizen knows that the child is in immediate, life-threatening danger, direct intervention isn’t recommended. The better approach, if the person knows who the abuser is, is to contact local authorities, generally agencies like child protective services, and report the abuse. Reports are usually anonymous.

Frequently, investigations cannot fully establish abuse of a child. If abuse continues after an investigation is concluded, people should again contact a child protection agency. Sadly, it can sometimes take several reports before abuse is fully established. Remaining vigilant, and calling police during any further instances of abuse can be helpful.

In circumstances where the abusive parent is currently threatening a child’s life, probably the best first response is to call police emergency services. Afterwards, personal intervention to stop the abuse could be warranted. People should bear in mind such intervention is not without potential physical risk or it could escalate a parent’s action’s toward the child.

Those who are mandated court reporters are legally enjoined to report any reasonable suspicions of child abuse. In these instances, they directly contact either police forces or child protective services. If the child is in their care at the time, they may have rights to retain that child, but they can’t necessarily prevent the child from leaving with the abusive parent.

Very little is done to “handle” the abusive parent, and focus is most on helping the child. Direct confrontation with the parent is typically avoided. The principal goal is involving an agency that is empowered by law to act and remove the child from a suspected abusive situation, while the investigation proceeds.

The matter is different if the person asking this question is a minor or adult child of an abusive parent. The minor child is most vulnerable, and whether abuse is physical or verbal in nature, that child needs help from trusted adult sources. It is highly recommended that minors speak to authority figures like teachers, counselors, or ministers to get assistance. Getting help in an abusive situation is a difficult and brave thing to do.

Adult children of an abusive parent may also have a difficult time trying to find safety and peace. Since it's likely that abuse has been occurring since childhood, it's challenging to break patterns and get to a mental place where the abuse of the parent is considered wrong. Adults who have been in these circumstances need help, and instead of initially directly confronting parents, they might benefit most from working with a therapist. It's usually advised that people leave the home where abuse is occurring, if they still live with the difficult parents.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon295371 — On Oct 05, 2012

Just wondering if a report can be made on a parent who puts their child through unneeded doctor visits?

We had a boy, under close supervision, run into a wall during PE. He got a pretty good bump, but mom would not return the school's calls. The parent made police reports, OCR reports, and complained to every organization that she could find, stating we caused the bump, but the school was never found at fault.

This mom is still complaining nine months later, and still going to doctors, who say the boy is fine, and now mom states he has a TBI.

She's a bully and she lies, even about his attendance. He missed two days of school last week and she said no he did not, that we are wrong. She never has come up against me, but many of my colleagues she challenges daily. I'm the special education teacher.

She's bullying adults and putting this child through undue medical examinations. Can we do anything? I'm about ready to quit my job and go somewhere else. I have been teaching for eighteen years and have never seen anything like this.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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