As with any trauma, children's reactions to abuse vary.
Being subjected to
abuse can affect all aspects of children's development... physical, intellectual
and linguistic and emotional and social.
Perhaps the most significant child abuse effects are the long-term damage to children's
self-esteem and self-respect, damage which may persist into adult life.
To be abused is to be made to feel worthless, misused, guilty and betrayed.
Children's feelings may be translated into observable behaviour patterns.
Below are a list of child abuse effects and characteristic behaviour of abused children, based on a study
of 50 abused children.
The behaviour patterns may also be regarded as indicators of abuse...
impaired capacity to enjoy life - abused children often appear sad, preoccupied
stress symptoms, for example, bed wetting, tantrums, bizarre behaviour, eating
low self-esteem - children who have been abused often think they must be worthless
to deserve such treatment
learning difficulties, such as lack of concentration
withdrawal - many abused children withdraw from relationships with other children
and become isolated and depressed
opposition or defiance - a generally negative, unco-operative attitude
hypervigilance, or frozen awareness or watchful expression
compulsivity - abused children sometimes feel or think they must carry out certain
activities or rituals (sets of activities) repeatedly
pseudo-mature behaviour - a false appearance of independence or being excessively
'good' all the time or offering indiscriminate affection to any adult who takes an
Alleviating Child Abuse Effects
The effects of abuse do not generally make children appealing. Abused children may be very
difficult to like.
Often they do not attract the love and affection they so desperately need. Alleviating
the effects of abuse requires a professional response that puts the needs of children before
Caring for abused children may provide you with a deep sense of satisfaction, but abused
children are not there to provide this for you.
Love and affection should be offered to even the most unattractive, unresponsive personalities.
Abused children need consistent, caring adults they can rely on, who will provide unconditional
love and affection.
Improving Children's Self-Image
In order to help abused children, you need to have a good understanding of the development
of self-image or self-concept.
You will need to contribute to the development of a positive self-image, and enhance children's
How you do this in practice will vary according to their age of development.
Twenty Golden Rules To Improve Children's Self Image
From the earliest age, demonstrate love and give children affection, as well as meeting their
all round developmental needs.
Provide babies with opportunities to explore using their five senses.
Encourage children to be self-dependent and responsible.
Explain why rules exist and why children should do what you are asking. Use 'do' rather than
'don't' and emphasise what you want the child to do, rather than what is not acceptable.
When children misbehave, explain to them why it is wrong.
Encourage children to value their own cultural background.
Encourage children to do as much for themselves as they can, to be responsible and to follow
through activities to completion.
Do not use put-downs or sarcasm.
Give children activities that are a manageable challenge. If a child is doing nothing, ask
questions to find out why. Remember that they may need time alone to work things out.
Give appropriate praise for effort, more than achievement.
Demonstrate that you value children's work.
Provide opportunities for children to develop their memory skills.
Encourage children to use language to express their own feelings and thoughts and how they
think others feel.
Provide children with their own things, labelled with their name.
Provide opportunities for role-play.
Give children the opportunity to experiment with different roles, for example leader, follower.
Provide good flexible role models with regard to gender ethnicity and disability.
Stay on the child's side. Assume they mean to do right rather than wrong. Do not presume
on your authority with instrustions such as 'You must do this because I'm the teacher and I
tell you to', unless the child is in danger.
Be interested in what children say; be an active listener. Give complete attention when you
can and do not laugh at a child's response, unless it is really funny.
Avoid having favourites and victims.
Stimulate children with interesting questions that make them think.
Encouraging Expression of Feeling
Abused children benefit from involvement in activities that enable and encourage them to
express their feelings in an appropriate, acceptable way.
Those who work with abused children need to understand the link between feelings and behaviour.
They need to be able to see beyond presenting behaviour to children's underlying feelings,
and to respond to these rather than the unacceptable behaviour they may demonstrate.
Observation skills are invaluable in this respect. Information from observations should be
carefully recorded and available to all those involved with the care of an abused child.
It is not always possible to be certain about children's feelings. The behaviour observed
should always be recorded as well as what you think the child was feeling (the evaluation
Play Therapy And The Use of Anatomically Correct Dolls
Some abused children will need expert professional counselling or play therapy in order to
aleviate the effects of abuse.
This may be with a child psychologist, a psychiatrist, a counsellor or a play therapist.
You may be involved in liaising with these professionals. Under their direction you may
be involved in the use of anatomically correct dolls
with children who have suffered sexual abuse.
Use of the dolls can be helpful because they...
ease the anxiety involved in discussing sexual matters for the adults as well as children
act as an ice breaker to get discussion going, possibly by establishing names for describing
the sexual organs and their characteristics
appeal to a wide range of children
maintain a child-oriented atmosphere
give the child permission to discuss sexual matters and understand what is natural.
The dolls can be used to...
give children an opportunity to act out, through the dolls, their feelings about what has
happened to them
educate children about sexual matters generally
describe and demonstrate the events involved in the abuse
facilitate group or individual play therapy sessions, involving other family members.
They may also be used to encourage and enable disclosure in the investigation of suspected
abuse and to obtain evidence of actual abuse.
In these contexts their use may be videoed.
Partnering With Parents or Carers To Reduce Child Abuse Effects
Part of your responsibility may include working with parents. Your aim will be to enhance,
not undermine, the relationship between abused children and their parents or carers.
Support and encouragement should be given to parent or carers to motivate them to emulate
good methods and practices in relation to their child, rather than to judge and alienate
It may be neccessary to help particular children to develop positive relationships with
their parents or carers.
This role will require sensitivity and a real understanding of the importance of the
relationship between parent or carer and child.
It will require a genuine committment to partnership with parents.
Managing Difficult Behaviour To Help Fight Child Abuse Effects
Emotional damage may well show itself in anti-social behaviour. Even if you understand
the reason for abused children's feelings, it may not be easy to cope with their
The way you respond to difficult behaviour will affect children's self-image and
self-esteem. Appropriate responses can help to alleviate the effects of abuse.
It is impossible to give detailed advice about how to respond to all the situations
that you may encounter.
The list below summarises the underlying principles for managing difficult behaviour.
They may be difficult to live up to in practice, but it is important to set high
Abused children may already have suffered considerable emotional damage at the hands
of an adult in a position of trust.
Reward positive or acceptable behaviour
Routinely give praise, time and attention
Remain calm and in control of your feelings
Respect the child
Reassure the child that you will go on loving them
Recognise how the child's behaviour makes you feel
Restrain the child gently if neccessary
Reason with the child
Respond consistently to similar events.
Punish aggressive behaviour with violence
Presume that a child's behaviour is aimed at you personally
Pretend that everything is all right if it is not
Presume that you are always right
Promise what you cannot do.
We all respond more to praise and encouragement than punishment. If punishment cannot be
avoided, keep it as low-key as possible.
Seek to make punishment a removal of attention from the child, rather than a drama that they
will want to repeat because it brings them attention.
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