When Children of Abuse Become Parents

In another scene, Colquhoune advances on Talia with a wooden spoon. But she wouldn't use it, she said.

"I haven't hit one of them yet. I've never hit one of them with this. But this is my threat right here," Colquhoune said. "I also got a fly swatter right there."

Dr. Alan Kazdin heads up the Yale University Parenting Center and Child Conduct Clinic. He is the author of "The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child" and other books on parenting.

Kazdin says kids learn by example -- so parents have to be careful about what behavior they model.

"If you want this child to comply and show respect, you don't start screaming and shouting and making threats," Kazdin said. "That will only make it worse."

He said that even if Colquhoune had used the fly swatter, it would not change the child's behavior for long.

"We know that the behavior will be suppressed at that instant," Kazdin said, "and it won't change over time. If she escalates to worse and she makes stronger threats and more hits, the child will adapt immediately. So that doesn't make her threats more effective. It makes all of them ineffective. It doesn't work."

Fortunately, Colquhoune reached out for help in navigating this rocky road. When she volunteered to take part in the Parent Aide program, Jean Hammond became her parenting mentor. Hammond has been at the job for 14 years, and it doesn't take her long to recognize a familiar pattern.

"[Cora] finds herself not able to discipline them," Hammond told ABC. " I think she is just a soft-hearted person. And she's let them get away with that, over the years. So when she says something to them, they don't do it."

Timeout Overkill

And what about the parent who doesn't use physical force or threats, but still can't get her child to behave?

Dawn, 36, said she remembers being hit so much as a child it made her completely shut down. "Even when I did something nice, I got spanked," she told ABC News. As a result, she said, she became a rebellious teen.

"I didn't listen to anyone," Dawn said. "I had anger. I was angry at the world. Wanted to do what I wanted."

And now, Dawn said, she has begun to notice that same rebelliousness in her 4-year-old, Autumn.

In scenes taped at her home, Dawn comes across as both loving and, at times, extremely critical.

"Autumn, stop playing with your food, please," Dawn says in one scene. "Uh-uh, don't wipe that on yourself, use a napkin. Autumn, wipe that on the napkin please. Don't use your clothes -- napkin! I'm taking it away."

And even when Autumn tries to correct her behavior, it's as if the little girl can do nothing right.

"Sit down the right way," says Dawn.

"Oops -- sorry," says Autumn.

"I'm sick of this behavior, you're gonna go to bed, you do not sit there and pour things on the floor!" scolds Dawn. "Go to timeout!!" And mom drags daughter out of the room, picking her up to carry her. Autumn screams.

Jacqueline Ligon is Dawn's parenting mentor.

"When we first started working together, she was very meek and not very assertive," said Ligon. "We've really worked hard at taking charge of, you know, not always being a victim."

So Ligon suggested some basic techniques to use when disciplining autumn: timeouts, restricting privileges and taking toys away.

But at first, Dawn was so desperate to control her daughter's tantrums that she ended up throwing every punishment she could think of at Autumn all at once.

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