When a child is a witness to domestic abuse, they often undergo behavioural changes, such as developing obsessive behaviours or flinching around any sudden movements or sounds. Children who are witnessing domestic abuse have been found to regularly complain about headaches, stomach aches or any other kinds of aches or pains despite there being no obvious cause for such pains to occur. Children who witness domestic abuse also often display regressive behaviour. Regression refers to reverting back to an earlier stage of their development. Typical signs of regression in children include sucking their thumb or rocking. Pre-school children who display regressive behaviour will often revert on their toilet training, experiencing more accidents as a result of regression. Children who are witnessing domestic abuse are also likely to experience sleep problems due to nightmares or night terrors which prevents them from getting a good amount of sleep. As a result, they are also likely to be more tired during the day.
Children who are witnessing domestic abuse may also exhibit a decline in concentration levels when participating in an activity, or during circle time. This could be a result of tiredness, due to nightmares preventing them from getting the recommended number of hours of sleep they need each day, but it could also be due to the fact that their thoughts are caught up with the images of domestic abuse that they have been witnessing. Children who are witnessing domestic abuse are also more likely to exhibit an unwillingness to talk about their home life. They may be less actively involved in circle time discussion than previously, or even avoid answering any questions about their home life that they are asked.
As a result of witnessing domestic abuse, the emotional state of children will usually change. Some children may start crying almost constantly when separated from their parent whilst other children may exhibit strong mood swings from anxiety and depression to anger or aggression. Different children will respond to witnessing domestic abuse in different emotional ways. Some children may start having more tantrums than usual and begin to exhibit difficulty in managing their behaviour. Other children may suddenly become more clingy to the early years practitioners in the room and exhibit anxiety upon separation from a particular family member. Some children who are witnessing domestic abuse at home may also show signs of hypervigilance in which they are overly aware of any sudden movements or noises and respond to such stimulus with anxiety or fear.
As a result of witnessing domestic abuse, some children’s social behaviour may also change. Like with children emotional response to witnessing domestic abuse, the way domestic abuse impacts upon a child’s behaviour will differ with each child. Children whose emotional state leans towards the aggressive side are likely to start demonstrating violent behaviour towards their friends, or through the toys that they are playing with. Other children witnessing domestic abuse, whose emotional state is less aggressive and more anxious, are likely to become withdrawn from friends and familiar adults, often appearing to have lost interest in playing with their friends, and even seeming to lose interest in the activities that they used to love participating in.
When children are being neglected, there are often a large number of physical indicators to suggest that they are being neglected. Such physical indicators that a child is being neglected includes a child consistently arriving at the nursery in inappropriate clothes for the time of year. For example, consistently being dressed in t-shirts, shorts or dresses during the winter months or consistently being dressed in lots of layers and jumpers during the hot summer months. Another indicator of neglect in terms of clothing is children often arriving at nursery in dirty clothes which appear not to have been washed in a long period of time. Poor dental hygiene is also a key indicator that nursery aged children are experiencing neglect. Children are unable to brush their teeth effectively at this age and so teeth are a key indicator of neglect. If a child has rotten or discoloured teeth, it could be a sign of neglect. Another physical indicator that a child is experiencing neglect is if they have an abnormally huge appetite whilst at nursery. This would suggest that they are not being fed properly at home, especially if they go to the extent of stealing food off another child’s plate.
On top of physical indicators of neglect, children who are being neglected will also show signs of this through changes in their emotional state. Some children will become withdrawn, purposely avoiding any adult attention and demonstrating a complete lack of interest in their surroundings, friends or any activities occurring within the room. Some children, however, will become overly clingy towards adults, desperate for some form of attention and care which they don’t receive at home from their parents. In these cases, children will show a lack of discrimination when it comes to the relationships they form with the early years practitioners. Where most children will form one strong bond with one particular adult, who is normally their key person, children who are experiencing neglect may try to form strong bonds with all the adults caring for them in an attempt to gain the love and care they don’t receive from their parents from any other adult they have contact with.
Another key indicator that a child is experiencing neglect is a lack of development in their language and communication skills. Because children who are being neglected are often ignored by their parents at home, the child will not experience an environment in which language and communication is positively encouraged. Therefore, neglected children’s language and communication development often falls behind the development of other children their age. However, language and communication delays are quite common amongst young children so it is important not to initially assume neglect. There will be other signs of neglect alongside a speech and language developmental delay if a child is experiencing neglect.
Finally, the actions of the parents will also be a key indicator if a child is experiencing neglect. Parents who appear to have a lack of regard for their child’s health are neglecting their child. If the parents are not giving their child any prescribed medication that the child has and are not willing to seek out medical advice when needed, it is a key sign that the child is being neglected.
Children experiencing physical abuse will often display a large number of physical signs that they are experiencing such abuse. The most noticeable sign of physical abuse is a child often arriving at nursery with recurrent injuries and bruises, with the excuse that they fell over. If the child is falling over just as much at the nursery, this excuse may be true but if the child is rarely experiencing any injuries at nursery it should cause concern. Another physical sign of physical abuse on children are bruises reflecting hand marks or fingertips on the child’s body. Normally such bruises will be present in places that are commonly covered up by clothes, such as the back, in an attempt to avoid suspicion. Children who are experiencing physical abuse will often demonstrate a significant fear when receiving medical attention, including flinching upon being touched or approached. In addition, children who are experiencing physical abuse will often experience a behaviour change and begin exhibiting aggressive behaviour as this is learned behaviour that they have learned from the person abusing them.
Children who are being physically abused will also exhibit changes in their emotional state. Some children may begin excessively crying with no explanation whilst others might start exhibiting anger management problems. The emotional response to physical abuse will be different in each child. It is common for children experiencing physical abuse, however, to demonstrate a fear of their parents when they are being collected. When a child is being abused, they will understandably develop a fear of the adult who is abusing them. If a child appears to be scared of going home and would rather stay at nursery, it is a sign of physical abuse. In addition, children who are being physically abused will also display wariness or watchfulness, hypervigilant of everything happening around them.
The action of a child’s parents will also be an indicator of physical abuse. Early years practitioners may observe parents rough handling of their child which would suggest physical abuse if occurring alongside other signs of physical abuse. Inconsistent or a lack of explanation for consistent bruises or injuries that the child has will also be an indicator of the child experiencing physical abuse. In addition, an admission from parents on the use of physical punishment would be an admission of physical abuse as physical punishment was made illegal by Working Together to Safeguard Children. Family factors of substance misuse, mental health problems or domestic violence and abuse would also work as a hint that physical abuse could be occurring and in such cases, early years practitioners should be vigilant to ensure that the child is not exhibiting any signs of physical abuse.
Children experiencing emotional abuse will demonstrate signs of this through their physical actions. Some children who are experiencing emotional abuse will suddenly start experiencing speech disorders such as stuttering whilst some children will start displaying neurotic behaviour such as twisting their hair or rocking. In addition, some children who are experiencing emotional abuse will start experiencing insomnia as a result. This means that they are more likely to be tired and start falling asleep during the day, even if they had previously stopped taking naps during the day. Furthermore, some children who are experiencing emotional abuse will begin exhibiting aggressive behaviour in an attempt to vent their frustrations.
Children experiencing emotional abuse will also undergo changes in their emotional state. Some children may start have inexplicable constant outburst of crying whilst others may start displaying difficulty in managing their anger. It is common for children experiencing emotional abuse to develop a low self-esteem and a lack of confidence due to the self-fulfilling prophecy. If their parents are constantly being negative towards them, they will start to believe what their parents are saying and their confidence and self-esteem will suffer as a result. Often, children who are experiencing emotional abuse will fear making mistakes as making mistakes could be what triggers the emotional abuse at home but it can also make the child realise that they are useless. It is also quite common for children who are experiencing emotional abuse to develop an inability to properly express their emotions.
Children who are experiencing emotional abuse will also undergo social behavioural changes. Some children might withdraw themselves from social situations, appearing to have a lack of interest in their surroundings and their friends whilst trying to go about their day receiving minimal attention from anyone. Some children who are experiencing emotional abuse will start displaying a difficulty in relating to other children their age. They will often avoid social interaction and instead just resorting to watching the other children in a frozen state.
An abnormal attachment between a child and parent, in which the child appears to be anxious towards their parent or there seems to be a lack of attachment between child and parent is also a sign of emotional abuse. Signs of emotional abuse can be picked up through observing the interaction between a child and their parent. If a parent is constantly mocking or joking about their child, this is a sign of emotional abuse as it can make the child feel inadequate, foolish and useless. In addition, the parent appearing to be negative or hostile towards the child, which can include making threats, is also a sign of emotional abuse. Finally, a parent appearing to be withdrawn or unresponsive to the child is also emotional abuse as the parent is emotionally unavailable for the child which can make the child feel unwanted and unloved.
Children who are experiencing sexual abuse will demonstrate a large number of physical signs of being sexually abused. Such signs can include pain or itching in the genital area, constant pain when urinating, stomach pains and signs of infection. In addition, children, typically older children, who are experiencing sexual abuse may start self -harming. This can include eating disorders, such as no longer eating anything or eating too much in an attempt to comfort themselves. Older children experiencing sexual abuse may even attempt to run away from home. A key sign that children, of any age, are experiencing sexual abuse is when they exhibit sexually explicit behaviour, play or conversation which is inappropriate and unlikely knowledge for a child of their age.
Children who are experiencing sexual abuse will also display indicators of that abuse through their emotional state. Some children might express a inexplicable yet intense sense of fear when around, or being picked up by, particular adults. In such cases, the adult is normally similar, in some extent, to the individual who is abusing the child. The child may also display similar behaviour when being picked up, or around, the individual who is abusing them. It is also common for children who are being abused to show anxiety or unwillingness to remove clothes, such as taking off their jumper even if they are really hot. Furthermore, it is common for children who are experiencing sexual abuse to have a low self-esteem and to become withdrawn from social situations and other adults.