How to identify emotional abuse and neglect in preschoolers

The evidence is clear that developing skills early-on – especially before children enter kindergarten – is essential for success later in life.  Unfortunately, children face consequences throughout their lives when they do not get the support they need as babies and preschoolers. Physical and behavioral problems and delays in social and communication skills are just some of the poor outcomes.

For young children who experience neglect and emotional abuse, there are intervention programs proven to work. But first educators and health care providers must identify which children need help.

A new systematic review published this month in the Journal of the American Medical Association Pediatrics analyzed 42 studies that included children up to six years old who suffered neglect or emotional abuse. Each of the studies identified the emotional, behavioral, and developmental characteristics of the children or analyzed the interactions between the child and his or her primary caregiver.

The review found that young children who suffer neglect or emotional abuse show a range of behaviors including aggression, passivity and withdrawal. They don’t play well with their peers. And often, if they don’t receive help, their emotional knowledge, cognitive function, and language begins deteriorate.

Understanding these behaviors is important because it can help educators and health professionals to identify children who need support and interventions that address neglect and emotional abuse, said Elliott Smith a researcher at the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research and associate director of the National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect.

“Without bruises or broken bones to treat, neglect and emotional abuse can be difficult for physicians to detect, but finding these children is so important for their long-term well-being ,” he said.

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