By failing to have a consistent and adequate caretaker, an infant or young child will be unsuccessful in achieving the goal of establishing and maintaining an ongoing relationship with their adult caretaker. The consequences of such a failure can be profound. Through these repeated, neglectful experiences with a caretaker, an infant or child develops an expectation of being neglected by others in the future. Therefore, the child’s sense of self is adversely affected.
Neglected children who have developed a loss of how to relate to people in a healthy way may develop symptoms of withdrawal, depression, passivity, disorientation and/or confusion. They become helpless and passive.
Raised in a neglectful environment results in several intrapersonal problems because of living within an environment where needs are not consistently met. This type of environment disrupts the child’s ability to develop the capacity for delayed gratification. A neglected child may never fully develop the capacity for control over his/her feelings and actions. This may lead to impulsive behavior in conjunction with a thought or feeling.
It is argued that many neglectful mothers have difficulty providing adequate care for their children because of their own past histories of maltreatment. These mothers have difficulty coping with the demands of an intimate relationship, and they may not understand the necessary cues and interactions because of their own emotional instability. Therefore, because of their inability to function effectively as well as their impaired relationships, these mothers do not have the capacity to engage in healthy attachments with their children. Consequently, their children do not acquire basic interpersonal skills and may grow up to perpetuate the same type of relationship dysfunction.
When interacting with peers, neglected children tend to be withdrawn from schoolmates or to relate to peers in a disorganized or aggressive manner. These children may exhibit fewer positive play behaviors such as offering, sharing, showing, accepting, throwing, and following. If a child has been denied a healthy environment at home, he/she may never learn to trust others, have difficulty in selecting friends, and is often engaged in conflicts with others because of their limited interactional skills.
Several studies have indicated that the presence of severe neglect, usually associated with malnutrition, has major consequences for the achievement of many important early childhood developmental milestones as well as for intellectual and psychological functioning later in the child’s development.
Neglected children often do not have a strong sense that they can have a meaningful impact on obtaining the cooperation of others. As demonstrated by their neglectful caretaker(s), neglected children learn that individuals are nonresponsive to their needs. This realization leads the neglected child to believe that relationships with others are not an effective means to have his/her needs met or that his/her needs cannot be met by others. This results in a decrease in attempts to initiate or develop relationships and a perspective that such behavior may be futile.