Behaviour of Abused and Neglected Children

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Children affected by abuse or neglect react in many ways. It is generally accepted that they will show signs of fear or sadness; they might have difficulties with their school work, harm themselves, wet the bed or have nightmares. However these are just generalities which don't cover the range of behavioural problems these children exhibit. Of course, the behaviours mentioned in this article barely touch on the behaviours displayed by abused and neglected children.

Some children who live with fear and stress on a regular basis tend to exhibit aggressive behaviour and extreme tantrums beyond the norm for their age group. Other children over-react to situations and tend to display impulsive behaviour. For example; an eight-year-old might throw a tantrum (much like a toddler, but with a more abusive vocabulary) when their carer refuses to buy them a chocolate while out shopping. Another traumatised eight-year-old might just take the chocolate and either eat it there or hide it in their clothing to eat in secret later. A trauma free eight-year-old would be more likely to sulk or whine and less likely to steal the chocolate.

A child could suddenly find themselves reliving, in vivid detail, past abuse(s), with the result they might withdraw from others or stare vacantly into space. Unexplained aggression and lying are normal too.

Children who have poor control of their emotions tend to have sudden, intense mood swings. They become defiant, uncooperative and oppositional which makes reasoning with them impossible. With their emotions out of control, and an inability to calm themselves, these children often suffer from depression. For example; after attending a birthday party for a ten-year-old friend the child will be feeling happy and excited, but these feelings will continue to grow until the child is extremely hyped. They will begin behaving in a way that is careless and out of control which within seconds turns to feelings of fear and anger and suddenly they are in a rage.

For some children being emotionally close to others removes their sense of control, leaving them feeling vulnerable. Living through abuse or neglect has caused these children to lose their trust in people. In their way of thinking the only person who is going to see to their needs and keep them safe is themselves. In order to do this they need to be in control of their environment. They can accomplish this with displays of adult-type behaviour, manipulation or defiant behaviour. Many children who have lost this trust also have difficulty with physical displays of affection such as a hug.

A large percentage of abused and neglected children have self-worth issues. They want to be happy and receive new things, but they don't think they deserve happiness let alone love and kindness. This conflict leads to difficult behaviour, with the child destroying new clothes or gifts. After an enjoyable experience the child might display extreme behaviour to punish themselves for having fun. Or on the other end of the scale, a child with low self-esteem might be extremely passive, unable to stand up for themselves or make choices.

Unfortunately it is these common behaviours of abused or neglected children which are less likely to be understood, or even recognised as having a cause beyond the child being considered “naughty." Unfortunately when the underlining reason for these behaviours are not known, people react in a way they would with a securely attached child which underscores the child's lack of trust and self-worth and so the cycle continues.

More about this author: Mandy Lennon

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