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Child Abuse and Development of Self-esteem

Child abuse is still a common problem in the modern world. The roots of child abuse and neglect are often rooted in the society, and these negative patterns are passed from generation to generation. It is possible to identify certain social and individual risk factors, increasing the possibility of child abuse and neglect. These problems might have both short-term and long-term consequences in psychological, emotional and physiological spheres, and are likely to have a negative effect on all future life of the child. One of the most severe consequences of child abuse and neglect is impairment of self-esteem. In order to improve self-esteem of their child, parents can adjust their everyday practices in the following way: increase child’s involvement in routine life and house work, allow the child to speak for him and let him make own decisions, thus helping the child to develop a sense of dignity.

Child Abuse and Development of Self-esteem

Newspapers, television and daily life increasingly demonstrate the facts of violence and abuse against children. Various manifestations of child neglect and abuse are present in all countries, irrespective of their political, ideological and economic structure. In 2005, there were reported about 3.3 million cases of child abuse. About 60 % of those children required medical examination, and half of them became a source of litigation. These data indicates that the percentage of cases of child abuse was 12.1 on 1,000 children; 1460 children (4 children per day) died in 2005 due to injuries, and more than 77% of children under the age of 4 died because of beatings (Evans, 2009). From 3.5 to 14% of all children are abused by their parents using physical force. It means that only in the U.S. and Canada, 2 million of children are beaten by their parents annually (Gilbert, 1997). Approximately on one third of all cases of physical abuse the child gets injured. Every year thousands of children are killed by their parents.

Child abuse is a complex problem that is often originated from previous generations . It covers issues of self-esteem, intimacy, alienation, and reality of expectations success, tension and other problems. Undoubtedly, children form the most insecure, and vulnerable social group. According to the UN, about 2 million of children under the age of 14 suffer from the arbitrariness of their parents each year. One of in ten of them dies, and 2000 commit suicide (Rodriguez, 2010).

Until the 19th century, children had the same status as domestic animals (pets). In 1962, the term “syndrome of child abuse” has become a part of the medical vocabulary, and by 1976 all the U.S. states adopted the law on child abuse (Rodriguez, 2010). Child abuse is a burning problem of modern society, which can be solved by parents. Thus, an effective method to combat child neglect and abuse and to prepare the child to the challenges of future life is to develop one’s self esteem. The involvement of parents is highly important for building the child’s self-esteem, and the parents should both work on their own self-esteem and create a healthy and positive environment for the child in order to avoid neglect and abuse, and to help the child acquire a positive self-image.

Causes of child neglect and abuse

There are several basic approaches to explaining the causes of child abuse. Each of them focuses on a different set of factors. Psychiatric approach studies child abuse on the basis of personal characteristics of parents and family history. The assumption that parents of abused children are sick or need treatment is not confirmed. The only fact that was established is that many adults, who are cruel with children, were also abused in childhood. Sometimes parents, who have experienced domestic violence, tend to crowd out and suppress the normal negative emotions that may arise in the interaction with the children. The accumulation of experiences in certain circumstances can lead to less controllable outbursts of aggression against a child .

Sociological explanations of child neglect and abuse causes take into account the influence of social factors on child abuse: this includes the cult of force to solve problems, the belief that physical punishment is an effective way of education, and similar public perceptions on the one hand, and socio-economic problems: poverty, unemployment or a sudden job loss, congestion, social exclusion, leading to an increase in emotional stress and dissatisfaction with themselves, others, life in general, on the other hand (Smith, 2004). Situational explanations pay attention to certain circumstances in the microenvironment: features (behavior) of the child, the child’s expectations of parents mismatch, disturbance in family relationships, etc .

Factors associated with child neglect and abuse

The “risk factors” for children experiencing neglect and abuse are identified. They are present not in all social and cultural conditions, but they give a general idea while trying to understand the causes of child abuse. It is important to emphasize that children are victims and they shouldn’t be blamed for the abuse.

Some individual characteristics of the child may increase the likelihood of abuse with him:

  • a child under 4 years old or young;
  • unwanted child;
  • a child who has special needs, constantly crying or having abnormal physical features.

Some features of the parents or caregivers can increase the risk of child abuse. They include:

  • difficulties associated with the newborn;
  • leaving a child without attention;
  • exposure to abuse in childhood;
  • lack of information on child development and unrealistic expectations ;
  • the harmful use of alcohol or drugs, including during pregnancy;
  • involvement in criminal activities;
  • experienced financial difficulties.

A number of factors in relationships within families or between sexual partners, friends and peers may increase the risk of child abuse, for example:

  • problems in the physical or mental health or development of any family member;
  • discord in the family or violence between other family members;
  • isolation in the community or the absence of a circle of support;
  • lack of support in child care from other family members.

A number of community characteristics can increase the risk of child abuse. They include:

  • gender and social inequality;
  • lack of adequate housing or services to support families and related institutions;
  • high levels of unemployment and poverty;
  • easy access to alcohol and drugs;
  • inadequate policies and programs to prevent child abuse, child pornography, child prostitution and child labor;
  • social and cultural norms that support or glorify violence against others, approving the use of corporal punishment, requiring rigid gender roles or lower a child’s status in the relationship between parents and children;
  • social, economic, health and educational strategies that lead to poor living standards and socio-economic inequality and insecurity.

Thus, children who are abused by their parents, have special features: a physical disability, developmental delay, severe, and behavioral difficulties. Children with disabilities and developmentally delayed children, as well as children with challenging behaviors, are at high risk of being abused. All this creates an additional difficulty in the family, strengthens the sense of parents` own inadequacy and causes child abuse and neglect to him.

The consequences of child neglect and abuse

There are short-and long-term consequences of child neglect and abuse. The short-term consequences include physical injury, damage, as well as vomiting, headaches, loss of consciousness which is specific for the syndrome of concussion, which develops in young children who are taken by the shoulders and shaken strongly. In addition to these symptoms, children with this syndrome have hemorrhage in the eyeballs. The short-term consequences also include severe mental disorders in response to any form of aggression, especially sexual. These reactions can manifest as excitement, the desire to run somewhere and hide, or in the form of a deep lethargy, appearance of indifference. However, in both cases, the child has a sharp feeling of fear, anxiety and anger. Older children may have severe depression with a sense of their own inferiority, inferiority complex .

The long-term effects of child abuse include violations of physical and mental development. These children are stunted, have less mass in comparison to their peers, later start talking and walking, and laugh less; they are significantly worse at school than their peers, often have “bad habits”: thumb-sucking, nail biting, rocking, masturbation, might have swollen, “sleepy” eyes, pale face, disheveled hair, untidiness in dress, other signs of neglect hygiene – lice, rashes, bad smell from the clothes and body (Westenberg, 2003).

Also child abuse can cause further different diseases:

  • after physical violence body parts and organs can have damages of varying severity and bone fractures;
  • after sexual violence there can be sexually transmitted diseases;
  • psychosomatic disease: obesity or severe weight loss that is caused by disturbances of appetite;
  • after emotional and psychological violence there can be skin rashes, allergic pathology, stomach ulcer.

Often, abused children have neuropsychiatric diseases, such as tics, stuttering, enuresis, encopresis etc.
The social consequences of child abuse have two simultaneously manifesting aspects: harm to the victim and to society. Among the social consequences there are difficulties in socialization: abused children have broken ties with adults, have no necessary for social skills with peers, do not possess sufficient knowledge and erudition, to gain prestige in the school, etc., addiction to alcohol, drugs, stealing and committing other criminal acts, prostitution, sexual orientation disturbance, difficulty in establishing their own families; they can not give enough care to their children because their own emotional problems.

Recommendations on improving child self-esteem

As it was mentioned above, child abuse and neglect can cause serious physical, social, behavioral and psychological consequences, one of which is the loss of child’s self-esteem. The formation of self-esteem is greatly affected by: positive (negative) assessment of child’s appearance in the mind of the child, as well as in the judgments of other people; peculiarities of types of family systems; the uniqueness of the relationship of parents with a child; assessment of training abilities of a child by others (Powell, 2005).

The development of self-esteem has 4 stages:

  • Stage 1 – from birth to 18 months. It includes the creation of a positive self-perception basis, the acquisition of a sense of confidence to the world, creation of a positive attitude toward himself.
  • Stage 2 – from 1.5 to 3-4 years. The child becomes aware of his individual start and himself as the acting being active. At this time, children develop a sense of autonomy or a sense depending on how adults respond to the child’s first attempts to achieve independence. This stage of development is closely linked with a sense of autonomy. Child who is more independent and curious, usually has a higher self-esteem.
  • Stage 3 – from 4 to 6 years. The child gets the first idea of a person he can become. At this time, there is developed either a sense of guilt or a sense of initiative, depending on how well the process of socialization of the child is, how strict rules of behavior are offered to him and how hard adults monitor their compliance.
  • Stage 4 – school years: from 6 to 14. It develops a sense of hard working, ability of children to express themselves in productive work. The danger of this stage: the inability to perform certain actions, the low status in a situation of joint activities lead to feelings of inadequacy. The child may lose faith in his ability to participate in any work. Thus, the development taking place in the school years has a significant effect on the children’s representation of themselves as competent, creative and capable workers (Naylor, 2001).


It is possible to provide several recommendations to the parents aimed at improving their child’s self-esteem. First of all, parents should allow their child to help them with routine things and house work, and increase involvement. Children often ask the allowance to help to do something, but parents refuse, being sure that a child can so something in the wrong way. By doing this parents children’s self-esteem and that is wrong, as children should always feel themselves necessary everywhere.

Parents should allow their child to speak for him. It happens sometimes that someone asks a child about his thoughts and his mother starts answering, giving no chance for a child to speak. These parents undermine self-esteem of the child, making it clear that he can not speak for himself. And it is wrong. Parents should help children express their thoughts, themselves.

Parents should give their child a choice and the respect him opinion. There are certainly decisions that should be made by parents, but there can be also ones that are not of that importance and can be taken by kids. Parents need to allow children make their own decision, and develop their sense of dignity (Caunt, 2002).


If a child is abused and neglected by his parents, his self-esteem drops and in his life he will not succeed, because he will assume that he simply does not deserve it. Self-esteem is very important for everyone because without it people can not believe in themselves and in their strengths to do something. An effective method to combat child neglect and abuse and to prepare the child to the challenges of future life is to develop and improve his self esteem. There is no doubt that the involvement of parents is extremely important for building the child’s self-esteem, and the parents should both work on their own self-esteem and create a healthy and positive environment for the child in order to avoid neglect and abuse, and to help the child acquire a positive self-image. Government, at the same time, should provide all possible support and legal base to protect children.


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