The intergenerational effects of trauma

Trauma and abuse that a parent has endured can be passed on to their child in the form of behaviors and outcomes. A study found that regardless of whether the child was abused, they are more likely to have poorer outcomes as adults, and have more trauma symptoms. (1)

Perpetuated abuse

You likely understand, experienced, or observed that parents who experience abuse and neglect are more likely to have children that experience abuse. The loss and trauma experienced by the parent are repeated by the next generation. (2)

Characteristics of child abusers

The following are characteristics of some people who abuse children(3). The important caveat is that these behaviours, personality traits, and situational stresses do not always mean that their child is being abused.

  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor control over their emotions
  • A history of being abused themselves
  • Stress
  • Financial problems
  • Social isolation
  • Relationship problems with a partner (may include domestic violence)
  • Lack of parenting skills
  • Is abusing drugs or alcohol
  • Illness
  • Belief that too much praise or attention will spoil a child
  • Belief that fear and embarrassment are the way to make sure children obey
  • Doesn’t understand children’s needs or abilities and criticizes children who can’t meet their high expectations
  • Belief that children should be quiet at all times
  • Inability to cope with life stressors
  • Focused on own troubles or things other than their children
  • Has been diagnosed or exhibits symptoms of depression


If the unresolved childhood trauma or abuse of the parent can result in them abusing their own child or leave them more subject to trauma themselves. This implies that the risk of intergenerational abuse can be reduced with intervention by the adult in addressing their own traumas.

Reporting abuse is your legal obligation

When you suspect abuse or violence that puts a child in danger, you have a legal obligation to report it. In New Brunswick, Child Protection Services investigates every reported case of abuse or suspected abuse. There are eight regional Offices of the Department of Social Development where abuse can be reported.

How to report suspected abuse

(1) Child Abuse and Neglect: Breaking the Intergenerational Link; Merrick, Guinn, 2018.
(2) Living our parents’ trauma: Effects of child abuse and neglect on the next generation; Leeman, Marta, 2018.
(3) Contributing Factors to Child Abuse and Neglect. From Children’s Wisconsin Hospital,