Social functioning is yet another aspect of a child’s life that may be negatively affected by maltreatment. The ability to become emotionally attuned to others and regulate emotions, otherwise referred to as "social competence," encompasses the capability to take another person's perspective, share experiences and learn from them, and apply that learning to further interactions with others. This ability to communicate and relate effectively to others is the building block for future interactions with people in all walks of life.
Because of their early negative experiences and possible alterations in neurological development, many maltreated children lack the capacity for basic trust in others and find it difficult to form appropriate friendships. The traumatized child may feel inferior and incapable around other children and may be overwhelmed by peer expectations of academic, social, and athletic performance. This can lead to the child becoming detached and withdrawn. Trauma-affected children may also be impulsive, have emotional outbursts, and experience difficulty in deferring gratification. Schoolmates may view them with dislike and derision, and they may become scapegoats among peers.
Some maltreated children, particularly those who have experienced complex trauma, have difficulty learning basic social skills and may either over-comply with or defy authority figures. They may also be extremely shy and passive or, on the other hand, may employ aggression to solve interpersonal issues. In addition to their social awkwardness, trauma-affected children may have low self-esteem and be easily victimized by both peers and adults. These social difficulties, if left untreated, may affect children throughout their adult lives.