Neuroses and mental disturbances begin to exist in childhood. The manner in which a child deals with his environment and with his relations to parents and other significant persons determines many of the characteristics of his behavior in later life.
Neurotic character disorders are characterized by very fixed and pervading attitudes in which the child has a distorted impression of other people’s attitudes, behavior and motives. A child may think that every person he meets is going to behave in a threatening or destructive manner toward him and adopt a character pattern of defensive hostility, aggression, or withdrawal. If this expectation of threatening behavior becomes inflexible, the child will react to every person in his environment in exactly the same abnormal manner.
In order to prevent serious adult character neuroses, children with these behavior disorders should be treated by a child psychiatrist or a psychologist early in the disturbance. Otherwise the disorder becomes magnified, ingrained into the personality, and is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to erase later in life.
Phobias and anxiety reactions in children may be real or may be irrational. A child may become frightened of the water after having a near-drowning experience, but usually the reaction to this, if he develops normally, should be gradual restoration of confidence in his ability to go into the water and learn how to swim. A child may be frightened by a horse or a dog, but later on becomes adjusted to the idea that not all dogs or horses are dangerous. If this ability to change fails to develop, various phobias and fears may appear, with many of the more irrational ones, which are incomprehensible and baffling to parents, representing substitutions for deeper-hidden fears. These require unraveling by a qualified child psychiatrist.