The Dangers of Creating "Vulnerable Child Syndrome"

Although parents do need to be aware that in the future if something doesn't go right, if development doesn't go as planned, if the child seems to have executive function problems, they may need to look back to that brain injury and say, "Okay, maybe this was from it." At the same time, I think by over-sensitizing parents you risk the vulnerable child syndrome. We see this a lot in infants where a parent will accidentally drop an infant on the floor, and the child sustains a skull fracture and maybe a small subdural, and they literally will change the way they care for that child for years to come. When the child starts to walk they won't let the child walk. The child's trying to roll and they don't want the child--because they're so afraid that that child is going to get hurt. So, while I think we need to be careful and look for signs that maybe that was more than a very, very mild concussion, at the same time we don't want to create vulnerable children or get in the way of what should be normal child development. And you wouldn't want to say go a child, "You can't go to the park." "You can't ride a bike." "You can't roller skate because you had this injury when you were 2 that might be more serious than we thought." I think we have to be careful that in making parents aware of these problems that we don't change the way that they're parenting or prevent children from developing in a normal way because they've had what may be really a very inconsequential injury.

Pediatrician Rachel Berger talks about the importance of parents balancing their awareness of a child's mild injury with letting that worry get in the way of the child's normal development.

See more videos with Dr. Rachel Berger.

Rachel Berger

Rachel Berger MD, MPH is part of the Child Advocacy Center at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and a member of the hospital’s Child Protection Team. She has been involved in the evaluation of thousands of children with suspected child abuse and neglect.

Posted on BrainLine January 9, 2013.

Produced by Victoria Tilney McDonough and Jared Schaubert, BrainLine, and Dan Edblom.