Children are defenseless and vulnerable, therefore, they make the easiest target for abusers and bullies out there. As adults, it is our responsibility to look after the kids and provide them with the safety that they need, but at the same time, we can’t always be around. There is a limit to which we can protect our young ones and though abuse and bullying are preventable, one can’t completely dismiss their possibility.
Many times children hide such incidents from adults due to shame, guilt, or fear. So the question arises, “How can we, as adults, spot signs that identify child abuse of any kind?”
Cierra Fisher, LPCA, Ed.S, Licensed Therapist says, “When a child is a victim of abuse and/or bullying it will manifest itself in certain interactions triggering a fight or flight response. Typically, these interactions will remind the child of the trauma, they will then either fight or flight, meaning you will exhibit them getting angry and lashing out verbally and potentially physically or they immediately without explanation leave the interaction, withdraw and potentially even become mute. These responses will typically not be equivalent to the trigger and seem as an overreaction to the interaction or issue at hand. I am happy to elaborate more about this as well as what’s happening in the brain to cause this.”
Signs of child abuse
1. Sudden change in behavior:
“Sometimes children may hide these things because of guilt, shame, or fear. It’s very important to have a real connection and know the child well because the signs of abuse and bullying can be very subtle and hard to detect. If you know the child well, you can easily detect any change in their behavior or demeanor. Sometimes it would present as children who are generally quiet being more aggressive and assertive suddenly or sometimes an outgoing child may suddenly become withdrawn,” Cathy Domoney, a world-renowned Parenting Expert, Author, Mentor, and CEO of Parenting Evolution said.
2. Avoiding the abuser/bully:
Children may seem to hate or fear certain people and try to avoid spending time alone with them.
3. Sexually Inappropriate Behavior:
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Abused children may behave in sexually inappropriate ways or use sexually explicit language. This is because they are just mirroring the actions of their abuser.
4. Physical problems:
Children can develop health problems, such as genital or anal pain and sexually transmitted infections, or they can become pregnant.
5. Problems in school:
Children who are being abused may have difficulty concentrating and learning and may begin to perform poorly.
6. Trust your instincts:
Cathy said, “And most importantly trust your instincts. If you think something is off with the child, it is important to take responsible action to ensure that the child in question is safe.”
Signs of Bullying
1. They hate going to school in the morning.
School is a hot spot for bullying, so if your child is reluctant to get up in the morning and go out, it could be a sign that something is wrong. For young children, repeated excuses for staying at home, such as aches and pains, or frequent calls from school nurses asking to be picked up early are a red flag. For teens, check in with teachers regularly to monitor their attendance because this age group is likely to miss school altogether. Be very careful at the beginning of the week when looking for signs of bullying. Monday is the most common day children want to avoid school. Children tend to feel safer at home on weekends, and the idea of going home on Monday is difficult for them.
2. Change of friendship
Losing or changing friends can be a sign of bullying, especially among teenage boys and girls. Also, reluctance to socialize with friends may indicate that bullying is occurring within the group of friends. This is common in the “mean girl” group, but is often hard for boys to perceive as bullying. Parents can stay privy to shifts within their child’s friend group by connecting with other parents in the group. This way, they can easily tell when their child will no longer be attending birthday parties, events, or other group invites.
3. Sleep disorder
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If your child is nervous or anxious about what will happen the next day at school, he or she may have trouble falling asleep or tossing and turning with anxiety. If they look tired during breakfast or more tired than usual, this could be a sign that they are having trouble sleeping at night. Fatigue can also manifest itself in other ways. The inability to concentrate or maintain good hygiene can indicate everything from trouble sleeping to bullying and depression.
4. Intense emotional reactions or crying spells
When children and teens have intense emotional reactions to conversations about school and social activities, it can be a sign of anxiety about those events. In younger children, this tends to focus on discussions around the school. In high school, on the other hand, they get emotional on Friday and Saturday nights. Either way, you’ll find them in emotional turmoil or an unwillingness to delve further into the topic.
5. They don’t want to have anything to do with my family.
Be careful if your child is not as talkative as usual or if they go to their room right after school. Going against siblings can also be a sign of long-term bullying. In some cases, the victim of bullying drops the “victim position” and instead becomes reactive with siblings and other children.
Often children don’t share these problems with adults. To this Cathy says, “Provide children a safe space to be vulnerable and share. I do trauma work with adults and sometimes the things that they tell me are the first time they are sharing them with anyone. As a child, they were afraid that no one would believe them so they kept everything to themselves. So you must take whatever children tell you very seriously because you might be the only adult they might tell.”