When a child’s basic needs aren’t being met, it can be just as harmful as outright abuse. Neglect comes in a few basic types:
A) Physical neglect
Obviously, children need the very basics of food and water in order to survive. They also need proper shelter and care in a child’s physical surroundings. When a child’s life is built upon a weak physical foundation, everything else becomes easier to topple.
B) Emotional neglect
Children need a healthy emotional atmosphere with lots of love, affection, and attention, as discussed earlier.
C) Developmental neglect
Children need enriching environments to grow in, and they need them from early on. A more enriched, complex environment with a variety of stimulation has been shown to increase the thickness and connectivity of the cortex. (Rosenzweig et al. 1962) Quality early childhood interaction leads to higher academic achievement, better emotional development, and higher overall success and competency as adults. (Ramey & Campbell, 1991; Ramey et al., 2000) A better environment = a better brain and a more capable child.
When one of these needs are lacking, not only does it create a problem when it comes to that basic need, but deprivations also carry over into other aspects of the child’s life. For example, a hungry child becomes preoccupied with food and will find it harder to concentrate on anything else, adversely affecting their academics. There’s a reason why schools focus so much on proper nutrition and providing meals for lower-income students. If a child isn’t getting enough to eat, they’ll never be able to concentrate. A lack of proper shelter or other essentials in the physical surroundings of the child’s home can create problems in social or general development. Children who are insecure in such areas tend not to play as much, they tend to be more shy and withdrawn, and once again, preoccupation with stressors in the home makes it more difficult to focus and thus adversely affects academics. If a child lacks proper health care, they may suffer from chronic conditions that elevate pain, once again elevating stressors and impeding daily functioning. A lack of stimulation and/or challenges has been shown to increase the prevalence of depression. (Lambert, 2008) So when there are deficiencies in one aspect of a child’s life, these tend to carry over and affect all others.
Lack of Discipline
Discipline is about developing self-control and learning prosocial behavior, not about rules or punishment. It’s about taking on responsibility, learning to mix work with pleasure, and eating your vegetables when you’d rather have a doughnut. Rules and punishment are only intended to be a means to a disciplined child. Our desire with discipline is a goal much richer and much more important than merely being able to follow the rules. It’s about raising a child who is kind to others and self-disciplined enough to be successful in life. This makes discipline an extremely important aspect of a child’s upbringing, and neglect in this area is one of the most overlooked methods of lasting injury to a child.
There are two types of discipline children need. The first is responsibility-based discipline: brushing their teeth, doing chores, looking after the pet, completing homework, etc. The second is behavioral-based discipline, designed to develop prosocial behavior in children: learning to be kind, no hitting, no stealing, treating others with respect, etc. Both types of discipline, and a child’s level of discipline in these areas, will affect every aspect of their adult life, from their ability to hold down a job and stay out of legal trouble to their ability to make friends and be successful in relationships.
A Child’s Need for Security
It’s important for children to have a safe-haven for which to build upon. (Ainsworth et al., 1978) Children aren’t able to grow and thrive until they feel secure. There are several components that build a secure environment for children:
A) Security in their caretakers
Children can’t form healthy attachments when caregivers or environments are inconsistent or regularly changing. Children need consistency in the people they love and depend on for nurturing.
B) Security in the emotional behavior of others
Erratic behavior in caretakers can be toxic to children. They need to know what to expect in terms of what will make others happy or sad. What will please them or make them angry. They need to know that the mother who was there last night will be the same mother emotionally there tonight. This is the reason parental substance use or mental health problems can be so harmful to kids.
C) Stability in their environment
Frequent moves, inconsistent surroundings, changes in schools; all these things create instability in the environment. This is tough on children, and raises stress levels.
Children need to know they’ll have a meal tonight and a warm place to sleep. They need to know they won’t get shot if they play in their front yard. They need to know that there are others there to protect them, and that their fears and despair will be comforted.
A lack of security can affect a child in numerous ways. Play and exploration thrives in secure environments, it withers without them. Since play is important for the proper emotional and cognitive development of the child, insecurity can impact all aspects of child development. Insecurity in any one of these areas also creates paranoia and elevates stress. Not surprisingly, a secure environment has been postulated to be the most basic necessity for a child’s development. Take away a child’s sense of security and everything else withers in response.