Comments for What can I do about possible emotional abuse of my adoptive nephew?

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Apr 17, 2008
Emotional abuse is difficult to prove...
by: Darlene Barriere - Webmaster

Pamela, while I sympathize with your position, if your sister-in-law refuses to accept any kind of caring and thoughtful advice when it comes to what you and I would call appropriate discipline, there's not much that can be done.

From a legal perspective, your brother and his wife have the right to discipline their child as they see fit, as long as what they do to him does not constitute the legal definition of child abuse. Emotional abuse is such a difficult type of abuse to prove; a type of abuse that most child protection agencies don't even consider, except when it is combined with another form of abuse or in the most severe cases.

Parents are not required to take parenting courses. Even in situations where courses are required, typically, there is seldom any follow up to ensure a parent is incorporating what has been taught. Neither are parents required to conform to any particular method of discipline. Even the courts permit some extraordinarily cruel forms of physical punishment in the name of discipline. What one person considers cruel and unusual, another considers acceptable and warranted. What one person thinks of as guilt-inducing and thus possibly damaging to the child's self-esteem, another thinks of as virtue-inducing logical consequences of the behaviour. Good or reasonable judgment cannot be legislated.

Even though you and I agree that your sister-in-law is taking things too far with respect to disciplining Brian, and even though we both believe that she herself is somewhat unstable, unless you see her doing something that would fit the legal definition of child abuse, your hands are tied. But if you do suspect or know of abuse, then report it to the appropriate child protection agency.

I can only suggest that you yourself treat Brian with respect and dignity. Model that behaviour for him; he will likely retain some of that if he sees and experiences it from outside sources. Using myself as an example, if I hadn't had the love and understanding of a beloved aunt while I was growing up, if I hadn't had her as my rescuer even for only a few days of a few of the earliest years of growing up, I likely would have completed suicide before I was 12 years old. Her love of me carried me through some of the most horrific of abusive incidents at the hands of my mother. My aunt's love helped me to "hang on." Pamela, you can BE and model that love for Brian.

I also strongly urge you NOT to denigrate your brother or his wife in ear- or eye-shot of Brian. If he hears his parents being disparaged, he will think of himself as flawed, and he will blame himself for the way you and others feel about his parents AND for the way they treat him. That is the nature of children.

I wish you and Brian all the best.

Darlene Barriere
Violence & Abuse Prevention Educator
Author: On My Own Terms, A Memoir

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