I am dysphasic when looking for some right words to use at the right time. This evening I was looking for the word, ‘frozen watchfulness’ while teaching on special character or marker of children with physical abuse. It simply means a situation in which the child is extremely tense, hypervigilent and watchful of the adult’s every move and expression.
This term was first described by Ounsted at. al. (1974) to describe symptoms like lack of initiative, hypervigilance and pseudoadult behavior where basic trust and secure environment have not been established.
Older children may become extremely passive and withdrawn, show little initiative, avoid attracting attention to themselves and typically do not act until they are fairly certain of the adult reaction. The child may become hypervigilant, acutely sensitive to adult mood changes and concentrate all resources on his or her caregivers in order to please them and avoid further harm.
Since abuse children are only appreciated when they meet adult needs, they only take on pseudoadult behaviors. In other word, they tend to become too matured, role-playing as the adult in order to please those who abuse them.
Because so much have been invested emotionally in this relationship and also because to do so may be hazardous, the child play little, does not explore the environment and does not develop peer relationship outside the family.
It is difficult to demonstrate clinically how it looks like but those who have seen these children would remember for life.
In a condition called reactive attachment disorder when the abused child minimally turn to their mum or attachment figure for comfort, support, protection and nurturance, frozen watchfulness is one of the signs to watch for. It does happen in foster-care, abuse children even at home with foreign maids as well as traumatized victim of natural disaster and war.
I am lucky to use information technology to correct my dysphasia or may be I’m too ancient to show off my talent in teaching as the correct word did not deliver at the correct time.