Brain Development and Child Abuse

Brain Development and Child Abuse


Just as positive experiences can support healthy brain development, children’s experiences with childhood abuse or neglect can negatively affect brain development.* “This includes changes to the structure and chemical activity of the brain (e.g., decreased size or connectivity in some parts of the brain) and in the emotional and behavioral functioning of the child (e.g., over-sensitivity to stressful situations).” PDF from Child Welfare Gateway: Brain Development and Child Abuse

“For example, healthy brain development includes situations in which babies’ babbles, gestures, or cries bring reliable, appropriate reactions from their caregivers. If children live in a chaotic or threatening world, one in which their caregivers respond with abuse or chronically provide no response, their brains may become hyperalert for danger or not fully develop. These neuronal pathways that are developed and strengthened under negative conditions prepare children to cope in that negative environment, and their ability to respond to nurturing and kindness may be impaired.” (Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000)

“Children who have experienced abuse and neglect for prolonged periods of time may:
Be unable to control their emotions and have frequent outbursts
ƒBe quiet and submissive
Have difficulties learning in school
ƒHave difficulties getting along with siblings or classmates
Have unusual eating or sleeping behavior
Attempt to provoke fights or solicit sexual experiences
Be socially or emotionally inappropriate for their age ƒ
Be unresponsive to affection”

“The positive news is that parents, foster parents, relatives and teachers who provide frequent, repeated experiences involving nurturance, stability, predictability, understanding, and support can change the way abused and neglected children see the world.  The children’s view can be changed from seeing the world as uncaring and hostile to one that is  caring and supportive.”

“Children’s recovery depends on a variety of factors, including the timing, severity, and duration of the maltreatment or other toxic stress, the intervention itself, and the individual child’s response to the maltreatment (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, 2012). ”

Note:  We have quoted liberally from April 2015 Information Brief from the Child Information Gateway.

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