What Is Child Neglect, And Are You Unknowingly Neglecting Your Child?
Even in the families where children may not have been planned, parents try to adjust to make sure that their children are properly cared for and loved so that their child has the best possible life and environment to grow up in. However, many parents may simply not be suited for this experience or may lose interest and focus on their child over time.
What is a bad parent?
A common fear among parents is that they might become a “bad parent.” While labeling yourself or someone else as a “bad parent” is not productive, any form of physical or emotional neglect needs to be stopped. Fortunately, recognizing the symptoms and signs of child neglect can help a parent or guardian improve their child’s health and life, either proactively or in response to realizing where they may have fallen short and become neglectful.
Are you neglecting your kid?
The definition of child neglect is when a parent fails to provide sufficient emotional, physical, or financial support for their child. “Support” includes all of the child's basic needs, such as necessary healthcare and medical attention, nutritious food, adequate clothing, education, safe housing, hygiene, emotional support, and safety. A child needs all of these components to experience a stable childhood.
Child neglect is a form of childhood abuse, and legal action can be taken against someone who neglects a child in their care. A neglectful parent or guardian can be arrested and face criminal charges for neglect, as well as temporarily or permanently lose custody of their child. The most severe consequence of child neglect, however, is the long-term impact the emotional and physical neglect can have upon a child’s development, physical wellness, and lifelong emotional health. The following discussion will provide more details about the consequences of child neglect and how to prevent them.
Common signs of child neglect
There are some signs that can indicate that child maltreatment and neglect is happening. Keep in mind that each of these signs individually may not be symptoms of neglect, but may be reflective of different concerns in the home that still need to be addressed, but may not constitute childhood neglect. The combination of signs is a cause for major concern.
Your child may be experiencing neglect if they…
- Do not attend school regularly.
- Are constantly dirty. The neglected child has body odor, dirty clothes, hair, etc.
- Have poor health due to the neglectful lack of health and medical care that’s required.
- Abuse alcohol and harmful substances––something that happens in older children.
- Show no attachment or affection towards you.
- Are either extremely aggressive or extremely depressed and fearful all the time.
- Run away from home for long periods.
Some signs of more direct abuse in children include frequent, unexplained injuries (cuts, scrapes, bruises, etc.), avoidant or secretive behavior, and/or trouble with walking or sitting. If you notice signs of potential abuse in a child, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).
Common examples of parents neglecting their child
If you are concerned about your own neglectful behavior to your child as a parent or guardian or think you may have observed child neglect outside your household, consider the following examples of neglectful behaviors.
- Calling the child by derogatory names
- Frequently yelling at or threatening the child
- Belittling, shaming, or humiliating the child
- Exposing the child to violence can result in them being emotionally neglected, even if the violence is not directed at them
- Limited physical contact with the child—a lack of kisses, hugs, comforting, or other signs of affection
- Ignoring the child or giving them “the silent treatment”
- Rejecting the child when they approach
- Comparing the child to others or using terms like “worthless” or “useless” to describe them
- Hitting or using violence against your child
- When your child is sexually abused, even if it’s by another adult and you’re aware of it but do nothing about it
- Abandoning your child for long periods of time and not leaving them supervised
- Not providing your child with clothing and not providing them with appropriate clothing according to the weather
- Leaving hazardous items around the house and within reach of your child. Not keeping your home safe for your child
- Not providing nutritious meals for your child and not keeping food in your home.
- Poor hygiene––not bathing your child, grooming them, and washing their clothing
- Leaving children in the car unattended
- Not cleaning your home and allowing your child to live in a dirty and unsanitary home
- Not providing the child with necessary health and medical care or neglecting preventive appointments, such as vision screenings or dental appointments
- Not providing the child with needed treatments or equipment, such as dental fillings, hearing aids, or corrective lenses
- Allowing the child to develop itchiness or wounds from lack of hygiene
- Failing to provide a safe, quiet sleeping environment for the child
- Truancy or unexcused absences from school
- Low grades without explanation or interest in improving
- Lack of awareness about assignments and school events
- Failure to make arrangements regarding the child’s special needs, if applicable
Potential impacts of child abuse and neglect
Child neglect can have lifelong impacts on children and those around them. Neglect can severely impact children and may harm their development, mental health, and physical health, among other things.
Development and mental health
Neglecting a child can have multiple negative impacts on their development and general behavior, both in the short term and over the child’s lifespan. Unless a person seeks adequate treatment, overcoming childhood emotional neglect or physical abuse may be difficult. In addition, children who are physically neglected are at greater risk of developmental issues, both physically and mentally.
A child who is neglected is at greater risk of developing mental health illnesses such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and other conditions. Children who are neglected also tend to have lower self-esteem. A child who is neglected may have difficulty interacting with other children, and in the formation of healthy relationships with others in both childhood and adulthood.
Children who are neglected tend to perform poorly at school, which can affect their later education and careers.
Teenagers who are neglected are more likely to engage in alcohol and substance use, high-risk sexual behaviors, and illegal behaviors. They are also less likely to form healthy relationships as adults. Being neglected as a child can make a person more likely to neglect their own children.
What causes parents to neglect their kids?
No one becomes a parent with the outright goal of neglecting their children, but neglect to the child can still occur for a variety of reasons.
If a parent has addiction disorders, they may focus on the addictive behavior to the exclusion of all else, neglecting their children. If a parent is preoccupied with substance use, their children may be left to fend for themselves in terms of food, education, transportation, and other necessities. Substance use treatment programs (sometimes incorrectly referred to as “substance abuse treatment programs”) can help a willing neglectful parent regain control of their life over time.
Unfortunately, some parents who wish to provide everything their children need may be unable to do so and become neglectful of their children because of a physical or mental illness. This situation can be devastating to a family, and outside support is needed to help both the parent or guardian and their children.
Because parents who were neglected as children were denied the care or resources they needed, they may be less aware of their own children’s needs. If a parent did not receive emotional support or care from their own parent or guardian, for instance, then they might not understand the typical depth of emotional support a child needs to thrive. Therapy and support programs can help a parent who has experienced child neglect learn to break the cycle.
Turning your parenting around
Several misconceptions persist about child neglect, and it’s worth debunking them before considering what to change in your own parenting.
First of all, neglect of children can occur in any family, regardless of wealth or socioeconomic status. Second, neglect is indeed a form of abuse—if a child is being denied from having a basic need fulfilled, whether physical, emotional, financial, or educational, then that child is experiencing abuse.
People who are well-intentioned and loving can still neglect a child. The good news is that help is available to support neglectful parents in providing their children with the care they need and deserve.
Tips to change your actions
Here are some things you can do to change your behaviors and actions to avoid neglect.
Understand what needs to change
Try to come up with a list of things that are not working and are leading to the neglect of your child. With the assistance of a therapist, if possible, write down a personal inventory of your current strengths and weaknesses and do some research into common neglectful parenting mistakes. Once you have developed a clear picture of the situation, your child’s situation, what neglectful behavior is, and what needs to change, you can brainstorm possible solutions to neglect and seek out resources to help you and your child.
Let positivity pave the way
Your child is better able to grow when they receive sufficient, positive attention. This means focusing on supportive words and praise when you are interacting with your child and encouraging them through their schoolwork, interests, and decision-making.
No matter how important your career or other aspects of your life may be, don’t neglect your child––your child comes first. Make sure that you are making a conscious effort to spend time with your child, talk with them, and play with them. Lack of time may be an instigating factor for childhood emotional neglect, especially if you are struggling financially or overextended at work, but even a few minutes each morning and evening of genuine focus and conversation with your child can start to make a difference.
Reach out for help
Parenting is a full-time job, and it can be overwhelming. Try not to be afraid of reaching out for help, both from supportive family members and friends and from a therapist or counselor when you need it. It is not neglectful to your child to do so. As a well-known proverb states, “It takes a village to raise a child.” No one is born knowing how to be an effective parent; try not to feel embarrassed or unconfident about asking for guidance, especially if you did not receive positive or attentive parenting while you were growing up.
Seeking therapy is not a sign of having failed as a parent, but rather of committing to become a better one—and it is effective. Studies have shown that parents can significantly improve their parenting competence and lower rates of child abuse and neglect by working with therapists, particularly when therapists provide strong ongoing coaching and supervision to help parents learn positive parenting and discipline methods.
Online therapy can be a place to create change and effectively in your parenting style. Regardless of your life circumstances or additional concerns like substance use or other mental health concerns, online therapy through a service like BetterHelp may be able to provide the support you need.
BetterHelp’s online therapy services are provided by licensed mental health counselors who are experienced in helping families like yours. You, your family, and your children deserve fulfilling, healthy, supportive relationships, and BetterHelp can assist you on the road to recovery. Here are a few reviews from previous clients of their BetterHelp counselors.
“I am THRILLED with Rachel and with BetterHelp! It is affordable, I am a single mom with 4 kids on a tight budget and a LOT of stress, and this format makes it easy to get help. I LOVE that I can write my feelings to her whenever I am having them, not have to wait a week for the next session. She is very insightful, and I am thankful!”
What happens to children who are neglected by their parents?
When a child’s basic needs are not being met due to parents neglecting their child, this is generally referred to as childhood neglect. This serious issue presents a wide range of risk factors that can impact a child’s health as well as a child’s emotional development. Childhood emotional neglect, as well as physical neglect can greatly hinder cognitive and social development, potentially leading to lifelong mental and physical health challenges including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is also true of any form of childhood abuse including emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse and educational neglect.
Does neglect from parents affect child development?
Yes. Serious development issues are often present in children who are physically or emotionally neglected by their parents and other family members. A neglected child is at greater risk of developing mental health illnesses such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other conditions. These conditions often present both short-term and long-term issues for survivors.
What are the social issues of parental neglect?
Parental neglect can lead to significant social issues, as neglected children often struggle with forming healthy relationships and may exhibit difficulties in social interactions. These individuals may face challenges in establishing trust, maintaining friendships, and navigating social norms.
How does neglect affect the development of a child?
Neglect profoundly influences a child's development, potentially affecting physical, emotional and cognitive growth. Children subjected to neglect may struggle academically, present severe behavioral issues, and face challenges in building healthy relationships throughout their lives. Additionally, a child facing neglect may present serious physical health issues due to lack of proper care.
How do you deal with emotionally neglectful parents?
Dealing with emotionally neglectful parents requires a careful approach, ideally involving open communication and professional guidance. Seeking family therapy or counseling can provide a structured environment to address the complexities of emotional neglect.
How does neglectful parenting affect children's behavior?
Neglectful parenting significantly influences children's behavior, often manifesting in various disruptive and maladaptive ways. Children may exhibit aggression, withdrawal, or attention-seeking behaviors as coping mechanisms for unmet emotional needs. The lack of consistent guidance and boundaries can contribute to impulsive actions and difficulties in self-control. Neglected children may also struggle with forming appropriate social skills, leading to challenges in peer relationships.
What are the effects of lack of attention from parents?
A lack of attention from parents can have profound effects on a child's emotional well-being and overall development. Children who do not receive sufficient emotional support may experience feelings of neglect and inadequacy, impacting their self-esteem. The absence of positive attention can contribute to behavioral issues, as children may seek attention through negative behaviors. Additionally, cognitive development may also be affected, as the child may not receive the necessary stimulation and guidance required for typical growth.
How does emotional neglect affect childhood?
Emotional neglect during childhood can have lasting effects on various aspects of both childhood and adulthood. The absence of emotional support may contribute to a persistent sense of emptiness and low self-worth. Children who experience emotional neglect may develop maladaptive coping mechanisms, such as self-isolation or seeking unhealthy relationships. This form of neglect can also impact cognitive development, hindering the development of essential social and emotional skills.
How does neglect make a child feel?
Neglect can deeply affect a child’s feelings, evoking difficult emotions including loneliness, sadness, and a profound sense of abandonment. The consistent lack of attention, care, and emotional support can lead to feelings of unworthiness and inadequacy. Neglected children may experience heightened anxiety and may struggle with forming trusting relationships.
How can we prevent child neglect?
Preventing and overcoming childhood emotional neglect, as well as physical neglect is a complex issue that is generally best approached through early identification and intervention. In many cases, community and social services can play a crucial role in preventing neglect, ensuring at-risk families receive necessary support. Additionally, fostering a culture that prioritizes child well-being and encourages open dialogue about parenting challenges can contribute to a group effort to prevent child neglect.
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