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Carolyn Hax: Does mocking a child constitute emotional abuse?

(Nick Galifianakis/For The Washington Post)
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Adapted from an online discussion.

Hi Carolyn: What specifically counts as emotional abuse of children? I’ve noticed a family member often mocking their children (under 10), yelling at one or more of them for something that wasn’t their fault, and maybe was a different child’s fault. I worry about the kids and their self-esteem, etc., as they get older.

— Worried

Worried: Aw, jeez.

Parents sometimes will make mistakes, such as holding the wrong child responsible for something. That’s hard on a kid, but a healthy parent will apologize after figuring out the problem, and both parent and child can be better for it if it becomes a way to learn humility and forgiveness.

When it involves laughing-at-not-with, scapegoating or venting/punishing because the parent is unhappy and the child is a convenient dumping ground, then it crosses into abuse.

It’s when the child’s lack of power brings out an aggressive response in the parent instead of a protective one.

If this is what you’re witnessing, please call Childhelp, 800-4-A-CHILD. It’s a nonprofit, and calls are confidential.

Bystanders have a lot of power in situations involving abuse, both in defusing situations and setting an example, but it’s not always intuitive what that power is or how to use it.

Dear Carolyn: Am I the only one left in the world that ever uses the sentence, “I don’t know”? It seems as if everyone thinks they are required to have an opinion on everything, and saying “I don’t know” is not an option. When will it be safe again to x, y or z? I don’t know; not today, and tomorrow doesn’t look good, either. It’s okay to not know.

I don’t expect you to know the answer to any of this; I am just frustrated by the expectation to know, or the certainty with which those who can’t know assume they do. You know?

— I Don’t Know

I Don’t Know: I know, right?

“I don’t know” is nothing short of liberating. It’s an admission of one’s limitations, so not everyone is going to embrace it — but, if you think about it, this is a wonderful time to recognize we can’t have it all figured out.

Dear Carolyn: What is the general, public, moral opinion toward somebody dating someone new when they have been separated for a long time and are in the process of divorcing?

— Dating While Separated

Dating While Separated: Isn’t this a really good time to be skeptical of a “general, moral public opinion” toward anyone or anything? John Q. was spotted at an anti-vax rally and is decidedly not at his best.

Even in his best days, he’s going to say everything from, “Good for you, go find happiness!” to some spiteful gossip about your running around on your not-quite ex.

Figure out your own code, then live by it.

And count on the people who understand that relationships end when they end — which can be years before the paperwork says they do.