Children who are maltreated are susceptible to having negative psychological outcomes later in life, depending on the trauma they experienced and how it impacts the child’s overall functioning. Maltreatment can refer to any type of abuse, such as physical, sexual emotion/mental, and neglect. Parents and caregivers of children who are abused may feel helpless and guilty because they couldn’t stop the abuse, or maybe they contributed to the abuse in some way. The important thing to remember is that children are very resilient- meaning that they have a strong ability to overcome significant obstacles and experiences they encounter. Below are some research-based strategies that are evidenced to be effective in protecting children from experiencing adverse effects and negative outcomes later on in life.
o It is critical that the child’s family and other friends be supportive, and that the parent(s) of the child maintain stable caregiving for the child and other siblings. It is important that the child has as much a stable life as possible, since their emotions on the inside may be unstable for some time. This will take understanding on the part of the parents, caregivers, other family and friends because children will react to abuse in different ways depending on various factors, such as their individual personality traits.
o Therapy is highly recommended, for both the child and the family to be able to process what happened and learn coping strategies for when the child re-experiences aspects of the trauma or trauma cues.
o Self-efficacy is another protective factor to child maltreatment and is also an important aspect of resiliency. Self-efficacy refers to one’s belief in their ability to accomplish something. Therefore, if a child is motivated by other supports to overcome challenges, he/she will be more likely to believe in their own ability to do it. This is also where therapy is involved, because therapists teach the children coping skills while showing their ability to utilize those coping skills when trauma is being re-experienced.
o One of the simplest things you can do as a parent/caregiver- let your child know you’re there for them. They may not want to speak about the abuse initially, or for a while, but always let them know that you love them and are there for them to listen and support them.
o As a caregiver, engage in self-care activities so that you don’t become too overwhelmed after learning of your loved one’s maltreatment. Think of it like this: On an airplane in case of emergency, the instructions are to place the oxygen mask on the face of yourself first (the parent), and then place the mask on your child second. They do this because a parent can’t take care of her child if she isn’t able to make sure she is OK too. The same situation applies with children who are maltreated, children need their loved ones to take care of themselves so they can take care of them!
If your child has encountered something traumatic or you suspect they have, there are many resources available to assist in the process of support and problem-solving for you and/or your child, including professional counseling. Call (215) 487-1330 or email us at Greenridge@intercommunityaction.org for more information about our counseling services, which include one-on-one therapy with a trained clinician.
Author: Kelsey Dailey, M.A.
Afifi, T. O., & MacMillan, H. L. (2011). Resilience following child maltreatment: A review of protective factors. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 56(5), 266-272.