Invisible Child Syndrome

Invisible child syndrome refers to the consequences of little affection from parents toward their children. Discover all its characteristics.
Invisible Child Syndrome
Laura Ruiz Mitjana

Reviewed and approved by la psicóloga Laura Ruiz Mitjana.

Last update: 29 January, 2023

Invisible child syndrome is an informal term to refer to a lack of affectionate experiences in the parent-child relationship. It’s not a psychological diagnosis, nor is it a term that’s used formally among specialists. Despite this, it describes very well the parenting situations in which children go almost unnoticed by their parents.

The consequences of growing up as an invisible child are multiple and very complex. Emotional and psychosocial development during the early years is linked to the immediate family (mother and father).

When there are problems in said relationship, problems arise on both levels that last until adulthood. Today, we’ll analyze what invisible child syndrome is, with emphasis on its long-term consequences.

The characteristics of invisible child syndrome

A child sitting on a staircase looking lonely while hugging a teddy bear.
Those affected by invisible child syndrome often experience social and psychological difficulties.

Invisible child syndrome is characterized by a series of traits, attitudes, and behaviors as a reaction to the affective neglect of parents. It appears in the first months of life and is strengthened as the child grows and develops. In general, we can highlight the following features:

  • An introverted personality
  • Excess obedience
  • A tendency to please others
  • Irritability and crying
  • Overflowing imagination
  • Problems when it comes to functioning on a social level
  • Retreat
  • Permanent feelings of guilt
  • Excess independence
  • A tendency to prove one’s worth in front of others

These are the core characteristics of invisible child syndrome, although, in practice, we can find many more. Initially, it manifests with irritability and crying. These are natural reactions that seek to attract the attention of their parents in such a way that the other traits appear only when there’s a prolonged absence of affection.

The consequences of the invisible child syndrome

The impact of the parent-child relationship on the emotional and psychosocial development of the child in their adolescent and adult years is often ignored.

We know that the emotional bond between them is gradually consolidated, and the emotional expressiveness of parents in early childhood toward their children has multiple implications. We can’t cite all the consequences of invisible child syndrome, so we’ll leave you with some ideas.

Reduced self-esteem

Researchers have found that the affection expressed by parents towards their children is a mediator of self-esteem. Faced with greater affection, young people show greater self-esteem; In the face of deficient affection, the opposite is generated.

Emotional rejection triggers a series of responses in the child similar to those that occur in a situation of abandonment.

In this way, feelings of inferiority and of little worth appear, which are reinforced as the attitudes of the parents continue. The little child questions their right to exist, their importance in the world, and the value they have for their parents. As a consequence, their self-esteem suffers, something that can be maintained throughout their adolescence and adulthood.

Emotional distress in adulthood

An article published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health in 2010 found that a mother’s affection toward her child during the first 8 months of life predicts emotional distress in the child as an adult.

High levels of affection during this critical stage translate into less emotional distress during adulthood. On the contrary, insufficient affection leads to greater anguish.

Think about this moment when many affective disorders, such as anxiety and depression, have their origins in childhood. In this period, as a consequence of invisible child syndrome, traits that reveal anxiety disorder and depressive disorder may appear.

If they’re not properly addressed, and if the emotional rejection remains, these can evolve into more acute episodes in adulthood.

Problems when facing stressful situations

A toddler sitting on the floor cyring.
A lack of tolerance toward situations of daily life is characteristic of those affected by invisible child syndrome at any stage of life.

A study published in the Journal of Family Psychology in 2019 found that parental affection toward children in early childhood mediates their coping attitudes in adulthood.

We can classify coping into two aspects: Emotional and focused on a problem. Both are affected according to the study, which has multiple implications regarding well-being.

Adulthood demands skills to face different situations. For example, in relationships, at work, in financial responsibilities, and so on. Invisible child syndrome can cause problems coping with stressful situations of various kinds. Just to mention an idea, the death of a pet or a loved one.

Minor tuning of their resilience ability

Resilience is the ability to recover from adverse life situations. Experts have suggested that parents’ attachment experiences toward their children mediate attachment experiences in children.

As a consequence, traits of frustration, impotence, confusion, problems staying calm, and others may appear in crisis scenarios.

Problems in their psychosocial and moral development

Finally, invisible child syndrome can also lead to psychosocial and moral development problems. This is what researchers say, another way in which physical and emotional affection affects the well-being of children.

The consequences of these are difficulties in functioning in a social context, making or keeping friends, and developing habits that go against moral status.

The experiences of affection and attention are essential during childhood. We’ve mentioned only a few consequences, but the truth is that in the absence of all this, there are dozens of problems. It’s very important to create a solid attachment bond with little ones, and doing so translates into multiple benefits that last into adulthood.

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