BENGALURU: It has been estimated that two of every three children are physically abused and one of two children experience emotional abuse. Emotional abuse negatively affects a child’s emotional development and is caused by withholding love or support for a child.In a survey, 36 per cent of Indian parents agreed to hit children as a form of punishment. 64 per cent of Asian (2-7 years) children are known to experience moderate to severe forms of abuse.
Why is it a burden?
Childhood abuse results in severe physical injuries, disabilities, poor cognitive and socio-emotional outcomes, behavioural problems, mental health issues throughout life and may lead to fatal outcome. Even mild forms of abuse pose children at risk of re-experiencing abuse. It is possible that it can evoke insecurity in a child.Neuroscientists who conducted brain imaging studies of children with history of abuse, have demonstrated long term abnormal brain changes in the areas related to emotion, motivation, attention and executive functions. Thus, quality of the relationship established in earlier life plays a fundamental role in development of social relationships and emotional regulation in later life.
How can parents help?
Support the child – Try to correct parent-child relationship, which in turn can prevent re-abuse, reduces parent-child conflict and reduces parental stress. This will improve family dynamics thus reducing child behavioural problems.Positive parenting - Understand right techniques to discipline your child rather than using physical means of punishment. Use of positive parenting skills which include positive reinforcement of child, trust building activities and spending quality time with the child are essential. In adolescents, it is a greater challenge as they frequently have lack of faith in the ability of family to help them handle aftermath of disclosure of abuse.
Do not blame the child – Children who go through emotional abuse frequently give in to bribing or befriending the abuser due to fear of disclosure or guilt of being abused. Blaming the child will lead to double victimisation of the child, both by abuser and family.Be aware – Understanding a child’s social network is very essential. Parents also have to be aware of online communication platforms that are now emerging as rampant forms of emotional abuse and exploitation of children and adolescents (eg Blue Whale app).
Seek help – Children often use different ways to express when exposed to abuse including sudden onset school refusal, mood disturbances, aggression, sadness, anger outbursts, social withdrawal and acute decline in school performance. Look out for these symptoms early and seek professional help.
Keep stigma away – Parents should keep stigma away when they identify need for support from a mental health professional. Parents should help the child regain their confidence. If the offender belongs to the family, measures to avoid repeated abuse should be taken.
Provide good social support - It is very essential to develop good social support network that include parents, extended family, peers, teachers and professionals, as an abuse tends to create greater chance of a child or adolescent manifesting a psychiatric symptomatology later in life.
– The expert is a consultant- pediatric, adolescent psychiatry, Rainbow Children’s Hospital