Changes in my child's behaviour

When a child or young person experiences exploitation, one of the ways in which this can first be noticed can be when their behaviour changes. When your Child’s behaviour changes or is ‘out of character’ it can be difficult to understand and know what to do. We have put together some information about why these changes may have happened, what this might look like and some of the things you can do to support them.

Why has their behaviour changed?

The brain reacts to ‘toxic stress’ that the child has suffered. It can sometimes be called a ‘threat’ response or a ‘panic alarm’ response. The body has gone into survival mode.

Although upsetting, challenging, frustrating, worrying and possibly overwhelming for the adults around them, these reactions are natural and normal. They are the brains safety mechanisms that helps it manage the trauma they have experienced. This is the reason they may appear to be acting different or behaving in new ways.

These responses to trauma do not naturally just ‘turn off’ once the abuse has stopped, young people stay continuously in survival mode. This means that normal every-day things such as certain events, sounds, smells, sights, places, people and sensations can signal danger to their brain which can lead them to become emotionally overwhelmed, causing some of these challenging behaviours.

Often without even realising it, young people may also change their behaviour to avoid certain events or cope with them for example they may begin bullying other children to avoid forming friendships.

This heightened stress and survival mode can also effect the body physically, hence why sometimes we see young people who have experienced trauma have continual headaches or digestive problems.

Below is a list of just some of the behaviours that you may notice and a few ideas around what you can do at home to support your child/children.

Some behaviour changes you may notice include:

  • New fears or phobias, e.g. dark places or certain smells, sounds and places
  • Personality change, e.g. from happy and outgoing to anxious or angry or withdrawn
  • Tiredness and exhaustion
  • Hyperactivity
  • Diarrhoea/constipation
  • Ache and pains – stomach aches/headaches/muscle tension
  • Constant colds
  • Asthma/eczema may get worse
  • Dizzy spells
  • Eating problems: eating more or less than before
  • Unusual memory loss/poor memory
  • Aggression, tantrums or bullying
  • Soiling/wetting
  • Sexually inappropriate behaviour or play
  • Withdrawal/isolating themselves
  • Keeping themselves distant from others, not wanting any physical interaction
  • Compulsive behaviours
  • Immature behaviours for their age
  • Controlling behaviours
  • Lying/denying doing things, even if you have witnessed it
  • Spending more or less time online
  • Clingy
  • Using old comforters
  • Become a perfectionist
  • Acting as if they ‘don’t care’
  • Sucking/chewing their clothing, e.g. collars and cuffs
  • Dissociation – zoning out or ‘mental flight’
  • Self-harm and/or thoughts of death and dying
  • Telling everyone their story of the abuse
  • Drug/alcohol use
  • Panic attacks/hyperventilating
  • Not wanting to go to certain locations such as school
  • Not wanting to go to bed
  • Insomnia
  • Bed wetting
  • Nightmares or night-terrors
  • Difficulties concentrating and learning
  • Overachieving or underachieving

What can I do as a parent/carer?

There are things that you can do at home which you can do every day which aren’t ‘big tasks’ but they create consistency and help young people know they’re safe and loved.

  • Give them time to talk to you in their own time and in a location they choose
  • Allow your child to talk about the confused way that they may feel and don’t interrupt them
  • Listen to them when they choose to talk and don’t have any distractions
  • Allow them to express their feelings in a way they want to. This could be through drawing or writing
  • Give them choices and explore their options with them
  • Explain to your child in words they can understand
  • Remain calm when talking with your child or managing their emotions / behaviours
  • Try to understand as much as you can about the effects of child sexual abuse so that you can best support yourself and your child

One of the most important things you can do is to ask for help yourself. If you want to find out what support is available in your area you can contact us.

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