8 Effects of Neglect on Child Development

Carolina Jacobs

Feb 13, 2023
effects of neglect on child development

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Neglect is a type of abuse that occurs when a parent ongoingly fails to meet their child’s basic physical, mental, emotional or medical needs. Neglected children may go hungry, lack adequate clothing to protect them in cold weather, do without eyeglasses and fail to attend school consistently. 

This form of abuse is insidious because it can stunt a child’s physical and mental development. Children need adequate nutrition, sleep, access to healthy exercise and medical care to meet developmental milestones and thrive. Failure to provide the basics can result in lifelong disability. 

It’s critical for teachers and other school personnel to understand this harsh reality. Here are eight effects of neglect on child development. 

1. Lack of Trust 

Children need a reliable, trustworthy caregiver to attend to their every need when they are born. Children who receive attention when they cry form a secure attachment with this figure, a deep core belief that people are essentially trustworthy. As a result, they have a far easier time forming healthy relationships with others later in life. 

Conversely, neglected children tend to adopt one of the three insecure attachment styles. Some become overly anxious, clinging to any adult figure who pays them the least attention. Others become avoidant, pushing others away, while still more manifest a strange combination of the two. 

Unfortunately, this lack of trust can prevent neglected children from building the healthy relationships they need to heal from trauma. They may have difficulty forming friendships and frustrate teachers with erratic behavior. 

2. Emotional Dysregulation 

Part of parenting involves teaching children how to identify and manage their feelings. Unfortunately, neglected youth often lack this education. They may not know how to put words to the emotional storm inside them, let alone choose appropriate methods of expressing their feelings. 

Emotional dysregulation can slow academic progress and result in alternative placements. School personnel should recognize that acting-out behavior is nearly always a sign of something wrong in the child’s home and avoid relying on punishment alone to address disciplinary problems. One incident could be an innocent mistake, but two or more signal the need for an intervention. 

3. Poor Impulse Control 

Neglected children often lacked discipline in the home. Therefore, they may lack impulse control, doing what they like when they feel like it with little regard for how their behavior impacts others. 

One sure sign of neglect that teachers shouldn’t ignore entails students who steal food. Neglected children may act out of desperation when hungry. Such incidents deserve looking into — often, providing families with access to social service resources can help them meet their child’s nutritional needs. 

4. Social Withdrawal 

A sad effect of neglect on child development is social withdrawal. It’s heartbreaking because many neglected children could benefit from a mentor or best friend to show them the more positive side of life. However, they could fear reaching out, perhaps becoming avoidant after earlier attempts to get their needs met went unanswered. 

Some children are naturally more introverted than others. However, teachers should provide opportunities for social contact through cooperative learning, encouraging reluctant students to engage with their classmates. If school officials suspect neglect, pairing such youth with resources like Big Brother Big Sister can sometimes help. 

5. Slow Speech and Language Development 

Neglected children don’t get the same opportunities to interact positively with adults that other children do. Their attempts to communicate may go ignored. This dynamic may not only make them socially anxious but stunt their speech and language development. 

The degree of impact often depends on the severity of a child’s isolation. Those who grow up without hearing others talk may not learn to speak, causing disability. 

6. Increased Mental Disorders 

It probably surprises no one to learn that neglected children suffer from more mental disorders than their peers. In particular, they’re more prone to anxiety and depression and often manifest somatic symptoms of their diseases. 

Unfortunately, obtaining mental health care isn’t always easy in America. Community clinics with sliding fees exist, but many have months’ long wait times before they can see new patients. School psychologists can play a vital role in explaining the importance of mental health treatment to parents and connecting them with free or low-cost resources. 

7. Decreased Corpus Callosum and Hippocampus

The effects of neglect on child development may manifest in many of the above symptoms, but they also cause physical changes deep within children’s bodies. It alters brain structures, making childhood trauma challenging to overcome. It requires dedicated patience and time to heal. 

Your corpus callosum is the thick band of nerve fibers that let either brain hemisphere talk to each other. A decrease in size can inhibit the flow of information from one side to the other, resulting in academic difficulties and developmental delays. 

Your hippocampus is a brain structure involved in learning and memory. Research indicates that reduced size may influence threat sensitivity, explaining why many neglected children struggle with anxiety. 

8. Reduced Cerebellar Volume

Your cerebellum helps coordinate motor behavior and executive functioning. Children who have been neglected often have decreased volume, which correlates with developmental delays. 

Furthermore, malnutrition can impair brain development, making it tougher to grow new neurons and form connections. It’s impossible to tell by weight alone if a child is malnourished, as some may indulge in high-calorie but nutritionally deficient foods. Free school breakfast and lunch programs can play vital roles in combating child hunger while helping them make more nutritious choices like fresh vegetables. 

Effects of Neglect on Child Development 

The effects of neglect on child development can last a lifetime. Children can experience academic struggles and delays that prevent them from becoming fully contributing adults. 

Those who work with children should understand the effects of neglect on child development. You could be one whose compassionate intervention makes a lifelong difference in a needy youth. 

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