For a child to develop in a healthy way, they must have the support of people who not only protect them from harm but treat them with kindness and care. Children who are treated poorly often internalize the mistreatment they experience and as a result, the negativity they carry weighs heavily on the way they see themselves.
If your child, or a young person you provide for, has survived abuse or trauma, it’s essential that you take time to learn about how these events affect the child’s body image. By being aware of the challenges, you can help them work toward effective healing.
How Does Abuse Affect Children
Abuse of any kind can be detrimental to a child’s body image. Frequent verbal abuse can lead children to believe they’re unattractive or damaged, while neglect can make children feel like they’re in some way a burden to the person or people abusing them. When a child is abused or neglected, they tend to reach false conclusions about how the abuse was somehow their fault.
For example, “my family member doesn’t want to spend time with me, so it must be because I’m messy or I smell bad.”
Trauma and Body Image
A traumatizing event, especially one that has left physical scars behind, can also be devastating to a child’s body image. If a child has been injured during an event, he or she may feel that everyone is judging their appearance on account of the injury they sustained.
Surviving a traumatic incident that left no physical scars behind can still greatly alter a young person’s ability to feel at home in their own skin. Additionally, this discomfort can last into adulthood if the effects of the trauma are not addressed.
How Parents Can Help
Parents who are aware of the abuse or trauma that one of their children survived can play an essential role in helping them heal. There are a couple of ways these efforts can be initiated.
- Remind your child they’re safe
(as their protector, set up a safe environment for the child and let them know that you’re there to prevent anything from happening to them)
- Be available for them
- Develop a positive relationship
- Use caring discipline
- Utilize therapy and support groups
(family therapy or individual therapy may be a valuable tool to implement when trying to help a child heal)
Abuse and trauma can affect a child for many years after the event has passed, so it’s important to remain alert and play an active role in your child’s road toward recovery. Do your best to have an open, positive relationship with the child and have frequent discussions about how the child is feeling.