Children who experience physical, cognitive or emotional neglect, often face anxiety. As a result, their body produces stress hormones. If this happens a lot, these hormones become toxic for their developing brain, which then later can repress emotional and cognitive well-being for life.
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the full story
Children who experience physical, cognitive or emotional neglect, say because their mother was sick and their father was busy, often face anxiety. As a result, their body produces stress hormones. If this happens a lot, these hormones become toxic for their developing brain, which then later can repress emotional and cognitive well-being for life.
The real story of Daniel Rucareanu, who spent part of his early childhood in a Romanian orphanage, shows the full impact neglect can have.
The story began in 1966 when Romania’s then leader, Nicolae Ceaușescu, wanted to make his country a world powerhouse and came up with laws to increase the country’s population. Abortion and contraception were declared mostly illegal. While the law led to a rapid rise in birth rates, many of the poorer families were unable to take care of all their children and Daniel, and around half a million others, were sent to state-run institutions.
In most orphanages there were no toys, no books, or anything else to stimulate cognitive development. Many kids just stared at the bare ceilings, waiting for their next meal. Due to the lack of human contact, some babies developed strategies for self stimulation, such as rocking back and forth.
The cognitive neglect often led to lower IQ scores, delayed language development and a lack of creative thinking. This happens because our brains build connections with every new experience and stimulation. If there are no rich experiences during the first years of life — the period in which the brain develops the fastest — children cannot build the foundations necessary for optimal future learning. They miss out for life.
Daniel lived with over 400 other children and their shared bedrooms were hardly ever cleaned. The meals were mostly tiny portions of boiled cabbage, which the staff would sometimes steal to eat themselves. Some supervisors used violence to control the orphans. Others encouraged the older kids to beat Daniel to humiliate him and exercise authority.
The consequences of physical neglect and lack of basic nutrients caused most orphans to suffer from stunted growth. Some children contracted HIV and Hepatitis B as a result of the reusing of medical supplies. The physical abuse caused severe bruising and other injuries.
The overworked and under-trained staff hardly ever soothed the crying children. In fact they barely spent any time with Daniel at all. Some children were left completely alone with their worries, others hid their feelings from the very people who ought to protect them, since they feared being hurt.
Emotional neglect and anxiety lead to an excessive production of the stress hormones known as adrenaline and cortisol, which is like poison for the developing brain. But the experience also distorted the children’s understanding of love and human relationships. They learned to trust nobody and as adults, often suffered from depression, insomnia and social anxiety.
When Ceausescu’s regime was eventually overthrown and the conditions inside the orphanages were shown on television, researchers from around the world came to examine the nameless children. MRI scans later showed that some had smaller volumes of brain mass. The resulting research made a strong case that not only is nutrition vital to a child’s development, but so is human contact. To help the children, a large number were adopted into foreign families.
But even after being adopted, many had problems forming loving bonds to their new parents. This aligns with the attachment theory and the notion that a child needs to establish a loving relationship with at least one primary caregiver early in life. Daniel was quite lucky with his family. While he continued to experience trauma and anxiety, he went on to have a university education, started a family of his own and later he founded a non-profit organization for neglected children.
share your thoughts
If you grew up in a loving environment, count yourself really, really lucky. If you experienced forms of neglect, try to internalize the idea that it was never your fault and maybe not even your parents’ fault either.
To read what we think can be done if you have ever experienced neglect, read the descriptions below. One way is to share your thoughts about neglect and how you think it affects you today.
- Romanian Orphans – Wikipedia
- The Battle of Ceausescus Children – ironcurtainproject.eu
- Zeanah, C. H. et al., 2005. Attachment in Institutionalized and Community Children in Romania. Society for Research in Child Development, Volume 76, pp. 1015-1028.
- Marinus H. van IJzendoorn, M. P. C. M. L. & Juffer, F., 2008. IQ of Children Growing Up in Children’s Homes: A Meta-Analysis on IQ Delays in Orphanages. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, Volume 54, pp. 341-366.
- Half a million kids survived Romania’s ‘slaughterhouses of souls.’ Now they want justice – theworld.org
- Nelson, C.A., Zeanah, C.H., Fox, N.A., Marshall, P. J., Smyke, A.T., & Guthrie, D. (2007). Cognitive recovery in socially deprived young children: The Bucharest Early Intervention Project. Science, 318(5858), 1937-1940. PMID: 18096809
- The former institutionalised children of Romania come together to investigate the abuses of Ceausescu’s orphanages – childpact.org
- Ceausescu’s Longest-Lasting Legacy – The Cohort of ’67 – donellameadows.org
- How Many Orphans Worldwide? What to Do? – adoption.org
- Learn about “The Attachment Theory: How Childhood Affects Life.” our video on the topic is a great start.
- Do the still face experience with a baby or learn about it on youtube.
- Non profit of Daniel Rucareanu – facebook page
Possible treatments and therapies
If a child is used to suppressing their emotions, because of neglect, it may be difficult to recognize and experience them in a healthy way. Therapists and mental health professionals can help both children and adults learn to identify, accept, and express their emotions in a healthful manner. These treatment options include:
1. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT): CBT aims to explain to you what’s going on inside your brain and how to cope with irrational feelings or fears.
2. The Hoffman Process: This 7-8 day’s guided process, designed to bring participants back into their childhood to reconnect with their parents and make peace.
3. Family therapy: If a child is being emotionally neglected at home, family therapy can help both the parents and the child.
4. Parenting classes: Parents who neglect their child’s emotional needs could benefit from parenting classes.
5. Psychoanalysis: The aim of psychoanalysis therapy is to release repressed emotions and experiences, i.e., make the unconscious conscious.
Ask two students in the class to leave the room. While they wait outside, decide which one you will welcome and which one you will neglect when they come back in.
When they do come back, cheerfully welcome one and completely neglect the other. Later, ask the neglected student how that felt and then repeat the experiment so that each student can feel the force of neglect at least once.