Article by Barrington H. Brennen, Pastor, Counseling Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist

Little children are innocent and unable to defend themselves. Adults are to love, care, and protect children. The sad story is that too many of our children are being wounded emotionally and physically by the very ones that should be providing nurture and care. These children are being abused in ways that leave permanent scars that impact the way they will relate to others or how they will feel about themselves throughout their lives.

Child abuse is the intentional wounding of the defenseless and the weak. “Child abuse is when a parent or caregiver, whether through action or failing to act, causes injury, death, emotional harm or risk of serious harm to a child. There are many forms of child maltreatment, including neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation and emotional abuse.” Abused children are at-risk of becoming dysfunctional teenagers and wounded adults. Many adults are not aware how child abuse can impact their children. 

In this article I will briefly share how abuse impacts children from birth age seventeen.

INFANTS AND TODDLERS (0 - 2½ Years ) Abuse of infants to toddlers can have a serious impact for life. There is developmental delay. There is failure to thrive due to the chaotic, loud, and harmful environment. Emotional withdrawal and low frustration tolerance. There can also be physical problems.

PRE-SCHOOL (3-6 Years) During this time abuse can cause development delay, especially in language development. The child may be afraid to speak, afraid of becoming the target of anger. This is due in part to not being spoken to by adults or experiencing meaningful discussion with adults. There is low frustration tolerance. The child cries easily and often. Her world is so chaotic she cannot handle ordinary stress. He usually has not witnessed appropriate ways of dealing with stress.

During these years (3-6 years) of child abuse the child learns how to act out aggressively toward pears and adults. The child is unable to play constructively. There might be lots of throwing or kicking. Possible destruction of playthings. Abused children ages 3-6 also may have an inconsistent or inappropriate display of emotions.

SCHOOL AGE (7-11 Years) - During this age period abuse children may become scholastically delayed or have poor school performance. The child finds studying and learning difficult when he cannot keep from worrying about what happened at home last night or who is going to get hurt, or maybe killed later tonight. Because of the lack of observable appropriate interpersonal relationships, the child has not learned appropriate ways to interact with others.

Fearful/Nightmares/Night Terrors. The child relives fears in her sleep. She may be afraid of sleep because of incidents of physical and/or sexual abuse that occur at night. She may have a history of being wakened by mothers’ screams and fathers’ yelling.  Withdraws/Depressed/Hopeless/Despondent. Life offers little, other than physical and/or emotional pain. Joy is lost.   Chronic Physical Complaints. There are headaches and stomachaches. The child knows no other way to realize or describe emotional distress. The stress level is too high for the child to cope.  Beginning to Mimic Adult Roles, Generally, girls adopt the role of victims; boys become aggressive and abusive.  Chronic Low Self-Esteem. The child blames self for the situation at home. The child’s good feelings about himself have not been nurtured.

ADOLESCENCE (12-17 Years)  Abused teens may experience depression.  There is a loss of hope and joy. The adolescent is full of sadness.  There may be signs of physical injuries, Maiming, Crippling, Scarring. Too often abuse leaves long-term or permanent scars on the adolescent.

Aggressive/Delinquency/Running Away. The adolescent realizes not one will take care of his needs, except himself. Adolescent will use the only coping skills he has leaned: violence and self-destruction.

Poor School Adjustment. The adolescent is academically and socially unable to perform

Early Sexual Activity/Marriage. It is common for adolescents who experience or witness abuse to engage in early sex or marriage as a means of escape or acting out.

Alcohol/Drug Experimentation or Use. This is another form of escapism or self-medication for the pain. The adolescent models the behavior of adults closest to her.

Death by Suicide or Murder. The adolescent takes his own life to end the pain, or intervenes to protect the mother. This results in harm or death of the adolescent or adolescent kills the abuser. Many Bahamian children attempt suicide each year.

Expansion of Violence Into the Community. Criminal activity sometimes through gang involvement where the teen finds a surrogate family. Anger and frustration spill over into the community.

APPEAL:  Parents, I encourage you to focus on loving your growing children. Your treatment of them today will impact their lives forever. "See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father. Matthew 18:10