Psychological First-Aid For Abused Children

I blog for World Mental Health Day

Around 20% of children, worldwide, suffer from a mental illness/disorder. Many are also prone to developing another by the time they reach adulthood.

One of the leading causes of mental disorders in children is psychological trauma.

There are various forms of trauma, such as emotional, physical, sexual, and verbal abuse; loss of a parent or loved one by abandonment or death; and neglect. All forms of psychological trauma can result in serious emotional harm.

Today I’m writing about what can be done if a child is being abused or neglected.

If you are sensitive to this topic and easily triggered, do not continue to read this blog post.

Some children do voice their abuse and/or neglect to a friend or adult they feel they can trust. But many are too afraid, or have sadly become use to the trauma they are suffering, and may never come forward. However, there are many warning signs of abuse and neglect that you can look out for.

Warning Signs Of Abuse & Neglect

If a child is being emotionally or verbally abused, they may:
  • Be anxious or fearful of making mistakes.
  • Show extremes in their behaviour.
  • Behave like a caregiver, or in contrast like an infant.
  • Be excessively withdrawn or quiet.
  • Behave aggressively towards other children or animals.
  • Seem unattached to their parent(s) or caregiver(s).
  • Be overly affectionate to strangers or acquaintances.
If a child is being physically abused, they may:
  • Be on constant alert (fight or flight).
  • Flinch at sudden movements, or shy away from physical contact.
  • Not want to be physically examined by a nurse or doctor.
  • Not want to change their clothes in front of others, or participate in physical activities.
  • Have frequent and/or unexplainable injuries.
  • Try to cover their injuries with certain clothing, or even makeup.
  • Seen afraid to go home.
If a child is being sexually abused, they may:
  • Show signs of discomfort when walking or sitting down.
  • Inappropriately touch themself or another person.
  • Not want to be physically examined by a nurse or doctor.
  • Not want to change their clothes in front of others, or participate in physical activities.
  • Make an effort to avoid a specific individual, without reason.
  • Show signs of interest or have knowledge of sexual activities, more extensively than “the birds and the bees talk”.
  • Have an STD or become pregnant (mostly before the age of 14).
If a child is being neglected, they may:
  • Be frequently hungry or dirty.
  • Be very underweight or overweight.
  • Have untreated illnesses and physical injuries.
  • Frequently miss or be late for school.
  • Wear ill-fitting or filthy clothes.
  • Be left alone, unsupervised, or allowed to play in an unsafe environment.
  • Be unprotected from emotional, verbal, physical, or even sexual harm.

Should you suspect, or know a child is being abused or neglected, don’t turn a blind eye. There are a number of things you can do to help them.

Psychological First-Aid

1. Be Approachable

Regardless of whether or not a child confides in you, it is essential that you conduct yourself in a warm, pleasant, non-judgmental, and understanding manner. By allowing a child to feel a sense of security around you, they are more likely to open up about any problems they are facing at home or elsewhere.

2. Listen

When a child does confide in you, just listen. Let them explain in their own words what has happened, and don’t probe them with questions. It is also important to stay calm and grounded. If you display any negative emotions, such as shock or disgust, your reaction could make the child more fearful and shut down. You should also reassure them. Tell them you believe them, that they have not done anything wrong, and what happened is not their fault.

3. Take Action

Firstly, you should report the abuse and/or neglect to the appropriate authorities, such as Child Protective Services. It is important for you to be specific about your suspicions of abuse/neglect, and how safe the child currently is, to ensure the child receives the right help. If the childs parent(s) or caregiver(s) are not involved with the suspected abuse/neglect, you should also alert them so they can help their child.

All children deserve love, kindness, and compassion. Too many lose their innocence before it is time to grow up, and end up suffering from a mental disorder during their childhood years or later. It is important for us to recognise when a child is in peril, so they can be helped before it’s too late.

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