Thousands of parents and carers are suffering physical and verbal attacks by their children, research has revealed.

The assaults are close-kept family secrets and most adults are too embarrassed or ashamed to report them or to seek help.

A study led by the University of Brighton says many adults are living in fear of their child while one in ten families in England and other parts of Europe are suffering child-to-parent violence (CPV).

Researchers are calling for comprehensive UK-wide early intervention services to tackle the violence and prevent more serious problems occurring in the future.

The university, in partnership with Brighton and Hove City Council and European partners, was awarded £641,000 in European Union funding in 2013 to study the emerging problem. It involves both young teenage boys and girls using physical or psychological abuse to gain power, usually over their mothers.

Paula Wilcox, a reader at the university’s school of applied social science, said: “This is the most hidden, misunderstood and stigmatised form of family violence. It involves teenage and younger girls and boys who use physical, psychological, emotional and financial abuse and violence over time to the extent that parents and carers live in fear of their child.

"We believe thousands of parents in England and throughout the EU suffer CPV but the problem is rarely articulated in government policy and it remains a taboo subject that parents and carers find difficult to disclose.

“From our research, mothers are the most likely to suffer violence and mostly from adolescent sons.

“Currently, the children in these cases in all the European countries except Spain are identified via referral from schools, social workers, domestic violence agencies and youth offending services. All this involves social costs for families and financial costs for the government.

“Abusive behaviour by children can be changed. Practitioners can equip children and parents and carers with strategies and skills to recognise when a situation is escalating and to reduce the potential risk of harm.”

Part of the study included the effectiveness of a scheme called Break4Change, a specialist CPV intervention programme in Brighton and Hove, which has parallel groups for parents and young people and helps children share, earn and investigate their reactions and responses.

Chairwoman of the city council’s children and young people committee, Sue Shanks, said: “As a council, we are committed to further developing Break4Change and have included this within our domestic violence and sexual violence delivery plan. We have also included it as part of our early help approach to prevent problems spiralling.”

Researchers are hoping their findings will help improve results for families.