Effects of child abuse on small children.
As hard as it may be to believe, child abuse does happen and is a reality to many children. Because abuse is defined by a number of different category areas and depending on what area you are looking at, or are familiar with, certain areas of abuse may not be brought into light. Michigan State University Extension believes this is why it is a little easier for some abuse to occur, yet still can go unnoticed.
Infants and pre-verbal children that have not developed language are particularly susceptible to abuse. This is not only due to their smallness and their dependent nature, but their inability to communicate. This is not to say that abuse is less probable with older, verbal children. Children can become victims of abuse by exposure to violence in or outside the home, neglect, and sexual abuse. Children can also experience abuse by having exposure to natural disaster, accidents, war, painful medical procedures, or the loss of a parent or caregiver. Many times adults experience trauma, or they may be the ones that inflict abuse, whether inadvertently or advertently on children. When painful events happen to adults it may be more apparent. Adults are more apt to express emotional pain, however if one can picture a child in the vicinity, then it would be safe to say that that the child is also experiencing abuse.
Although infants and toddlers do not fully understand violence, they can feel danger, loss, fear and more. According to the National Child Welfare Center, babies know their caregivers smell, the sound of their voices, the way they hold them and the rhythms of the day. They notice when it is different or disappears altogether. Babies and young children notice when moods change, the caregiver is tense, quiet or acts differently. They notice when caretakers are slower at coming to them than usual when they cry. They also notice their voices, lack of talking or lack of interaction. Babies and toddlers may seem like they are not affected. They may just lay in their crib, continue playing or just sit there. Because babies are all different, they will respond so in certain situations. Some may also cry, be fussy or sleep more. Exposure to abuse can vary in frequency; it may be a one-time exposure, can happen repeatedly or they may be the victims of abuse.
When children’s emotional needs are not being met, MSU Extension suggests that experiencing ongoing abuse can change the way a child’s brain develops and functions. Healthy bonding results when their needs are met quickly in a caring manner, making them feel safe and loved, giving them a willingness to try new things. Their past experiences are the templates from which they will develop understanding, caring, sharing and love that will impact their relationships.