When Children of Abuse Become Parents


Growing up, Nick Schiavone feared his father. Now a single father of two himself, he tries hard to be affectionate and demonstrative with his own children, he said. But when Nicholas, his 5-year-old son, acts up, Schiavone's temper can get the best of him.

"I will slap the crap out of you!" Schiavone yelled, with cameras rolling, after the boy threw a rubber toy at his face.

It's hard enough for any parent to know what to do when a child acts out. For caregivers who themselves were disciplined with harsh physical punishment as a child, it's even harder. Studies show that one in three people who were abused as children will grow up to become an abuser.

VIDEO: Counselor instructs mom of defiant 4-year-old in positive parenting techniques.

For more than a month last year, ABC News followed three parents in Florida who are trying to overcome the odds. Cameras rolled as the parents struggled to deal with their kids monster tantrums and meltdowns that could test anyone's patience. The families volunteered for a mentoring program for at-risk parents called Parent Aide, run by the Toledo, Ohio-based National Exchange Club Foundation.

Schiavone said that nowadays he has a very good relationship with his dad -- but when he was young, things were different.

"When I was younger he was kind of abusive," Schiavone told ABC News' Chris Cuomo. "Spanking, punching, throwing me across the room. I don't want to do that with my children, because I know the effect that it put on me as a human being. I don't want that to happen to my children."

Breaking the Cycle of Abuse Part 1

Can these parents stop the cycle and not perpetuate the violence they themselves experienced as children? They'll get help, but will they be able to help themselves?

Experts are shedding light on parenting techniques that can help break the cycle and can provide a blueprint for virtually anyone looking to become a better parent. Science has shown that stress hormone levels in children, aggression and even obesity can be altered when parents learn how to break the cycle of damaging behavior.

"Most parents who were abused as children say, 'I'll never treat my children the way I was treated,'" said Karen Askew, director of the National Exchange Club Foundation. "But people tend to parent the way they were parented themselves."

Cora and Her Grandchildren

Cora Colquhoune, 63, has had custody of her grandchildren -- Tim, 10, Alex, 9, and Talia, 6 -- since they were infants. Their mother has been in and out of jail several times, and the children's father is in and out of their lives. It's all that Colquhoune, a retired cook, can do to keep up with three young children.

When she's at wit's end, Colquhoune says she falls back on how she was raised: She threatens physical punishment.

"I just want to kill him," Colquhoune said after a run-in with one of her grandsons. "I just want to pick up one of them pots right there and smash his damn head. ... If you discipline the children the way I would discipline, they'd a put me in jail, in prison."

Colquhoune said she's struggling to raise her grandkids without force. But the older they get, she said, the harder it is for her to control them.

In one videotaped scene, Tim swats his little sister, Talia.

"Stop!" Colquhoune yells, backhanding the boy in the stomach.

Then Tim hits his grandma back -- and runs.

Colquhoune gives chase, but has a hard time catching the 10-year-old. She throws a shoe at him and misses.

"You're not going to hit her no damn more," she tells him. "You get out of here."

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