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What are symptoms of child mental abuse?

Symptoms of mental or emotional abuse in a child include the following signs:

Physical:
  • delays in development
  • wetting bed, pants
  • speech disorders
  • health problems like ulcers, skin disorders
  • obesity and weight fluctuation
Behavioral:
  • habits like sucking, biting, rocking
  • learning disabilities and developmental delays
  • overly compliant or defensive
  • extreme emotions, aggression, withdrawal
  • anxieties, phobias, sleep disorders
  • destructive or anti-social behaviors (violence, cruelty, vandalism, stealing, cheating, lying)
  • behavior that is inappropriate for age (too adult, too infantile)
  • suicidal thoughts and behaviors

Child mental abuse is devastating to the developing brain. Yelling, screaming, taunting, demeaning, and threatening all have a physiological effect on a child's developing brain structure. In particular, the nerves in the brain that should develop to be a lush but well-pruned tree, look like a scrawny, deprived sapling when abusive events occur. Over time these events rob the child of their potential in life; for education, for relationships, for ingenuity. When these occurrences become the norm for a society, their future is in jeopardy. Child abuse is truly that devastating.

Dr. Robert Anda, currently a consultant to the CDC, and colleagues have developed and are extensively studying a tool for screening for ACE, Adverse Childhood Events. The sooner these are detected and ameliorated, the better the brain develops and therefore the brighter the future for the child.

Symptoms of mental abuse manifest in children as extremes in behavior. The child may be very passive and compliant to very aggressive and demanding. Other symptoms include being overly nurturing to other children or overly infantile. The child may be distant from their parent and may express delayed emotional and physical development. Children of mental abuse may attempt suicide.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.