Characteristics of Child Victims
It is clear that all of us will at some time be involved with a child who has been a victim of physical or emotional abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, or a witness to family violence. Therefore, it is important that we are familiar with the characteristics and behaviors of these children. Although each child is an individual and will have a different configuration of symptoms or classroom problems, there are some commonalities to their psychological and behavioral status. Sometimes children will give us very simple clues that indicate they are uncomfortable in certain situations or appear to be different than other children in the classroom. At other times, they may be very hostile and angry and may tend to alienate other children as well as alienating teachers or other adults in the school setting. Perhaps one of the most striking symptoms is a dramatic change in a child's demeanor or personality. These changes are often very sudden; for example, a child who has been very outgoing and involved with other children may suddenly become isolated and avoidant. These changes are often reflected in a student's performance, grades, or social situations. A sudden drop in responsiveness or accomplishment in the classroom can be a cue that something significant is going on in the child's life. Listed below are some of the typical distressful emotions that a child victim may experience and explanations of how they might affect children at different developmental points.
One of the child's very early developmental needs is for security and safety. A young child who does not feel safe may have significantly elevated anxiety. This might show up in simple nervous behaviors (habits such as twirling hair or biting nails) or actually be seen in the development of phobias, panic disorders, obsessive/compulsive disorders, and so forth. At times this anxiety may be associated with a particular person or environment, or it may be more generalized with the child constantly feeling on edge or irritable. Young children often use avoidance to cope with this kind of anxiety or develop other symptoms such as nightmares, bed wetting, or physiological symptoms such as headaches or stomach distress.
As the child gets older, the anxiety may take on other behavioral manifestations. In adolescence these young people may cope with their anxieties by becoming aggressive or resorting to the use of alcohol and drugs to numb some of the agitation or irritability they may experience.
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