Respect is one of the first things children are taught as soon as they are old enough for their behaviour to be labelled as “disrespectful”. While it is important, children should be taught to respect themselves first. This means not letting anyone belittle or break them down unnecessarily – even their own guardians. You do not have to be a children’s rights attorney to know that every child is entitled to a safe home environment. This is the same for any such environment that a child should find themselves in – their school environment, social environment, and so on.
The definition of a toxic relationship is when one person’s negative behaviour causes emotional damage and alters the way the other person sees themself. Children are very impressionable so the risk of a negative self-image is high, which leads to depression, anxiety, loneliness and it can even manifest into illness. It is no hard feat to make a child feel guilty or ashamed – they end up blaming themselves and this invariably causes a lot of damage.
Going back to the topic of respect, children are taught that adults are always right. This places adults into a category of support, safety and trust – that they will steer children in the right direction. What happens if adults instead do harm by causing shameful, anxious and stressful feelings in the child. Toxic adults can be anywhere. At school, family gatherings, friend’s houses and at home. All a person needs to exhibit toxic behaviour is a voice.
The line between a difficult relationship and a toxic one is blurry. Toxic behaviour is often subtle and touches the line before retreating safely behind it. A good way to define toxic behaviour is through the devastation it brings on the victim’s psyche. This is when the child is constantly being shamed and belittled.
The reason children are not only easy targets but constantly go unnoticed as victims of toxic environments is that they do not always have the words to describe what is wrong. This makes it our responsibilities as adults to pick up on any changes and to listen to what children have to say when they try to explain what is wrong. It is always a good idea to remain clued up when it comes to Children’s rights. A sure way to do this is to look out for any grey areas or concerning signs regarding an ongoing situation that involves a child. You can do this by contacting a children’s rights attorney for advice.
As children are taught that adults are always in charge, it can be hard to speak against one when something is wrong. This is especially true if the toxic behaviour is coming from a parental figure, someone painted as trustworthy and right.
The first sign to look out for will be in their behaviour. Here is a list of possible changes to their normal actions and behaviour:
- They are more withdrawn.
- When they no longer want to go where they previously didn’t mind or loved going, for instance school, an activity or a friend’s house.
- Tears flow more easily and more often than usual.
- A lack of energy.
- Loss of interest in things they used to enjoy.
- Unexplained aches and pains or illnesses.
- They are clingier.
- Increased aggression or crankiness.
- More worried than usual.
- More controlling than usual.
- Treating their siblings differently. (Perhaps mirroring how they themselves are being treated.)
Children’s rights are clearly stated within the Children’s Act of South Africa (Act 38 of 2005). If you know of a child that is caught up in a toxic household or environment it is best to contact that child’s next of kin and advise them to seek legal counsel with a children’s rights attorney. The most important thing is that the child is happy and safe. Toxic behaviour can easily be labelled verbal and emotional abuse.
It is very important to teach children to think for themselves and give them the courage to recognise if someone is disrespecting them or belittling them (even if that person is a parent) and that they should seek help from another adult whom they truly trust. Teaching children that being kind and respectful doesn’t mean they have to accept another’s bad behaviour. The morals we instil in children should not be exploited by adults.
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