Abuse can happen in any family and to any child. Socio-economic station, race, religion and culture are irrelevant when talking about the welfare of children. Sad isn’t it? A well-educated man or woman, professionally successful, can be an abuser. And their children can be at risk every moment of every day.
Characteristics and behaviours commonly found in abusive parents or caregivers include:
- A sense of entitlement where only his needs matter
- Alcohol and/or drug use or abuse which may lead to loss of control
- Social isolation of the family
- Abuser has little emotional control and is emotionally immature, often over or under-reacting to situations
- Uncaring parent often lacking parenting skills
- Confuses love and abuse
- Belief in the need for strong discipline, often since the child is seen as evil
- Inability to trust others; unable to give or accept emotional support
- Controlling, rigid and compulsive
- Unable to express emotions in socially acceptable fashion; hypersensitive
Similarly, there are some common characteristics found among abused children. The following list some of the factors that seem to coincide with physical abuse:
Problems which contribute to abuse
Some children have physiological problems that make them more vulnerable to adults who might be abusive. Premature babies and those with congenital defects or physical handicaps can be at higher risk, as can those with colic. Children with delayed development, learning difficulties and hyperactivity may also be at higher risk
Children with behavioural difficulties, such as aggression and opposition defiance disorder can be at higher risk. Children who are dependent, have tantrums, and wet their bed or soil themselves are at increased risk.
Children who are withdrawn, passive and/or have problems with communication can be at risk. And the child whose temperament is different from the parent’s may be at risk. It’s no stretch of the imagination to realize that a child who resembles someone the parent doesn’t like or a part of himself he doesn’t like is at higher risk as well.
Same Family, Different Outcomes
I’m often told “my sibling doesn’t have any of my problems. What’s wrong with me?”
The effects of abuse are very personal. They vary from child to child, even when the circumstances seem identical. Factors such as the severity of the abuse (both emotionally and physically) and its duration can be critical. A child whose first five years are without abuse will likely react differently than a child who is abused from birth. The age of the first incident can also be very impactful. It also tends to last longer when it starts at a younger age. Lastly, the relationship of the victim to the abuser is critical. The closer the relationship and expectations of trust, the greater the damage.
Research is showing that some children have higher levels of resilience (think: ability to cope) and this may insulate them from the worst effects of abuse. But this field of study is in early days and much more research is necessary
Child abuse is trauma. Pure and simple. So it’s not a stretch of the imagination to realize that abused children may have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Ironically, the family support system and parental support is critical in mitigating the effect of abuse. But what about the child whose abuser is a parent? They have limited resources and even fewer opportunities to get the support they need.
If You’re Trusted by a Child
If a child tells you about abuse, it is important to stay calm and quiet. This child has trusted you with his deepest secret and he needs a strong adult to talk with. Find a quiet place to talk and know that few children can make up this type of story (especially if they’re young). Listen carefully. The child may be trying to protect someone but has a strong need to get this information out. Affirm your commitment to protect and support the child. If necessary, contact the officials. School teachers and counselors might be a good resource because they have the most up-to-date information about contacts, especially if the child has spoken to them. Acknowledge that there is no single way for this child to react. Anger, sadness and even guilt may overwhelm them. Reassure the child that these feelings are normal. And don’t forget to get some help for yourself. You’ve just been subjected to a traumatic event.
Have you suspected a child was being abused? Did a child admit abuse to you? Have you reported child abuse? What have been your experiences?