Often when people think of child abuse, they think about a child that has been battered and has visible bruises and scars. While physical child abuse is the most visible kind, there are other forms of abuse that can leave scars that last much longer. The sooner a child who is being abused gets help the better chances they have of restoring themselves and breaking the cycle before it gets repeated.
Child Abuse and Neglect
The first thing that should be pointed out is that not all child abuse is visible. There are some forms of abuse that can really hurt, but never leave a physical scar on the child’s body. When a parent or guardian fails to meet a child’s needs, leaves them unsupervised, places them in harm’s way, makes them feel less than, or demeans the child, these are all forms of abuse that may not be visible. All of these forms of abuse can really be detrimental to the child’s emotional well being.
Effects of Child Abuse and Neglect
Again, while some forms of child abuse leave physical scars, all forms of abuse leave emotional scarring. The trouble with emotional scars is that they do not go away on their own. They can have very long lasting effects on the child that carry on throughout their life. It can damage their ability to have healthy relationship and function properly in school or work. Some of the most common effects include:
• The inability to trust – when children are unable to trust those who are supposed to look after them, they develop a sense of distrust with everyone.
• Feelings of worthlessness – When abused, children are left to feel powerless and as if they did something wrong to deserve the punishment.
• Bottled up emotion – abused children become afraid to express what they are feeling and bottle up their feelings.
While everyone grows up believing that words do not hurt, they really can. Emotional abuse can really damage the way a child views life, others, and themselves. It can hinder their mental health and social development leaving scars that can carry on into their adulthood. Emotional abuse is, continual humiliation of a child, name calling, negative comparisons to others, ignoring as punishment, and limited signs of affection towards the child, and exposure to abuse of others.
Warning Signs of Emotional Abuse
• Child is always withdrawn, anxious or fearful when they do something wrong
• Child is not attached to the parent
• Child acts as an adult (caring for others)
• Child is overly infantile (crying, sucking thumb, throwing tantrums)
A more common type of child abuse is neglect. When an adult continually fails to provide the necessities a child needs including food, clothing, supervision, and proper hygiene. It is not always easy for an outsider to detect when a child is being neglected. Sometimes it is because the parent is no longer able to care for the child due to a physical medical condition, and other times it is because of the use of drugs and alcohol by the parent. In either case, it is trying on a child and in some cases, the child will take on the responsibility of the adult just to get by.
Warning Signs of Child Neglect
• Dirty, improperly fitting, or wrong type of clothing
• Child always has bad hygiene
• Child has illnesses that are not treated
• Child often left alone
Physical Child Abuse
Physical abuse is when a child is harmed due to abuse or injury. While in many cases it is a direct result of someone trying to harm the child intentionally, it is not always the case. Sometimes physical abuse is the result of a parent trying to discipline too harshly.
Warning Signs of Physical Abuse
• Frequent injuries
• Flinches when movements occur
• Afraid to go home
• Wears clothing to cover injuries
Child Sex Abuse
Child sexual abuse is a very complex form of abuse. You should keep in mind that sexual abuse does not have to mean body contact. If children are even exposed to sexual materials at an early age, this can be viewed as abuse. Like the other forms of abuse, sexual abuse can have a lasting emotional affect on the child. Sexually abused children often feel ashamed and guilty for what has happened. This can lead to complications in their sex lives as they get older.
Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse
• Difficulty sitting or walking
• Displays interest in sexual activities
• Tries to avoid a particular person (the abuser)
• Fears changing clothes in front of others
• Runs away from home
Risk Factors of Child Abuse and Neglect
There are some circumstances that can make it much more likely for a child to be abused or neglected. While child abuse and neglect can happen in any household, these are some risk factors you should pay attention to.
• Children living in a home where domestic violence takes place
• Children who live with someone who is abusing or addicted to drugs and alcohol
• Children who live with parents that have untreated mental health problems
• Children who live with caretakers that don’t have much parenting experience
• Children who live with parents who feel they have no support or are very stressed out from day to day living.
Recognizing Abusive Patterns In You
Abuse is not always an intentional thing. Sometimes life gets the best of you and you take it out on those closest to you. As painful as this may be to think about, you have to ask yourself if you recognize yourself in any of the above descriptions. Are you stressed, angry, or depressed and have nowhere to turn? Admitting that there is a problem and that you need help is the best thing you can do for yourself and your children.
“Screaming at children over their grades, especially to the point of the child’s tears, is child abuse, pure and simple. It’s not funny and it’s not good parenting. It is a crushing, scarring, disastrous experience for the child. It isn’t the least bit funny.” – Ben Stein
Breaking the Abusive Cycle
If you were abused as a child it can be very easy for you to begin abusing children of your own.
“Many abused children cling to the hope that growing up will bring escape and freedom. But the personality formed in the environment of coercive control is not well adapted to adult life. The survivor is left with fundamental problems in basic trust, autonomy, and initiative. She approaches the task of early adulthood ? establishing independence and intimacy ? burdened by major impairments in self-care, in cognition and in memory, in identity, and in the capacity to form stable relationships. She is still a prisoner of her childhood; attempting to create a new life, she re-encounters the trauma” says Judith Lewis Herman, Author of Trauma and Recovery.
While you may feel like there is no way to control the anger you feel, there are healthier options you can try. In learning new ways to cope with your emotions you are breaking the cycle to old patterns. It helps to remember that your role in your child’s life is essential, and they need you to make an effort to change. Some tips for changing your reactions to things are:
• Realizing what is age appropriate and what is not – Set guidelines based on age, do not place unrealistic expectations on a child.
• Learn new parenting skills – if all you know is abuse, it can be hard for you to show love to your children. Taking parenting classes is a great way to learn.
• Take care of you – find time to care for the most important person in your life; you.
• Get professional help – talking with a professional about your problems is the best way to learn how to channel your emotions.
Helping a Child Whose Been Abused
Some may be wondering what they should do if they notice a child has been abused? The first thing to remember is that you can make a difference in their life. When you approach the child, the best approach to take is to talk with them in a calm way that shows them you care and they can trust you. When talking with them, make sure that you don’t interrogate them, let them know it’s not their fault, and assure their safety.
After discovering a child has been abused you will need to get them help right away. While you may be reluctant to report the child abuse to the authorities, you essentially could be saving this child from a lifetime of hardship. This does not mean that you will be tearing up a family, simply that you’re helping a child in need. If you would like to learn more about child abuse, signs, advice, and treatment options you can visit these sites below:
For more literature on child abuse consider reading these books listed below:
• Breaking the Bonds of Child Abuse
• Child Abuse and Culture
• Emotional Abuse and Neglect of children