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Troubled Child

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"I'm not sure which she needs more, a hug or a bath."

The Troubled Child is an innocent-looking youngster who looks cute enough, until you notice they rarely smile, and tend to talk in a broken deadpan when they talk at all. They may inexplicably burst into tears at times. Usually, the cause of their trouble is Parental Abandonment, Abusive Parents, or a congenital impairment of some sort.

This has excellent Woobie potential, but if the writers go too far, they may end up as a serious Base-Breaking Character for less "compassionate" viewers. Opposite of the Cheerful Child. Compare Creepy Child, and don't confuse with Bratty Half-Pint (although in some cases children act out due to underlying emotional issues). Compare Lonely Rich Kid. See also Harmful to Minors, which frequently overlaps with this.

Oftentimes will grow up to be a Troubled Teen or Broken Bird.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Space Runaway Ideon: Fard. Like most of the other kids, he lost his parents when the Buff Clan attacked the colony on Solo. Spends most of his time moping, cries easily, and carries a rag doll with him for most of the series. Then, he's killed off. Alongside everyone else.
  • Count Cain: Emile, due to Parental Neglect, mainly.
  • Natsume's Book of Friends: The series is about a Troubled Child finally getting a chance to recover from past trauma he's dealt with.
  • Noein: Yuu. At the beginning of the series, it's quite clear he's on the edge of a severe nervous breakdown due to the extremely controlling nature of his mother. Once his mother gets some sense talked into her and eases up, he starts to slowly improve.
  • My Hero Academia: Eri. After being horribly abused by a man who claims to be her father, she is so broken she is unable to smile.

    Comic Books 
  • The Incredible Hulk: Bruce Banner started off as one, with an insane and abusive father, who blamed Bruce for nearly killing his mother in childbirth, and thought Bruce was a monster simply for being intelligent. Add to that an abusive nanny, and Bruce started suffering from DID before he was even old enough to go to school. Then Rebecca tried leaving Brian and got murdered right in front of Bruce...

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Aliens: Newt, due to the trauma of trying to survive the aliens' infestation of her colony, either reacts like a frightened animal or is pretty much catatonic after Ripley and the Marines find her. It's only when Ripley takes on a maternal role to her that Newt begins to come out of her shell.

  • 2666: Lotte, who spends much of her life wondering when her brother will return from World War II.
  • The Chosen (1997): After the traumatic loss of her mother and best friend Timmy at the hands of a vampire, five-year-old Rashel basically went into permanent flight-or-fight mode, such as climbing to the top shelf of her aunt Corrine's wardrobe to sleep out of fear. Following Corrine's death in a 'mysterious' house fire and being sent to foster care, Rashel withdrew from her peers and concentrated instead on becoming strong enough to fight back against vampires and other monsters only she knows are real. Subsequently, she developed into a rather socially withdrawn teenager with a fixation on violent revenge.
  • Lola Rose: Both Jayni and Kenny Fenton. Jayni suffers from low self-esteem and anxiety, Kenny acts more like a toddler than a six-year-old sometimes is prone to emotional outbursts, and doesn't much like interacting with other kids. They both grew up with a violent father who beats their mother and is verbally abusive to Jayni, at the least, as well as having to run away and start a new life from scratch.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Jaehaera Targaryen in the backstory, as detailed in Archmaester Gyldayn's Histories and Fire & Blood. She was always regarded as a rather simple and frail child, though also sweet-natured. The Trauma Conga Line she went through didn't help the poor girl's mental state; civil war broke out that saw nearly her entire family killed and she witnessed the beheading of her twin brother when she was just six years old; the assassins threatened to rape and kill her along with her brothers unless her mother chose which of her sons would die (they killed the one she didn't choose), her other brother was killed during a riot and her mother committed suicide. At the age of eight, Jaehaera often cried with minimal provocation and still wet the bed. By the time she was ten, she seemingly took her own life by throwing herself from a castle window, in the same manner as her mother.
  • The Suitcase Kid:
    • Andy has a lot of issues stemming from her parents' recent and acrimonious divorce, which is lampshaded by the family therapist. She is socially withdrawn and makes little effort to integrate with her stepfamilies (which isn't surprising considering some of them actively exclude her), she has difficulty concentrating at school, often gets into fights with her stepsister Katie (sometimes escalating to violence), and mouths off to her stepdad Bill. Andy begins breaking into a garden near where her old home used to be, though she doesn't want to cause trouble; she just really wants some space of her own. This culminates in her sneaking out in the middle of the night, in winter, to go looking for her lost toy.
    • Andy becomes increasingly aware that Katie has some underlying trauma from her mother's death, which explains her behaviour. Katie's unresolved issues from her mother dying and her father coddling her results in her deliberately acting younger than her age to gain attention or sympathy, being cruel to Andy (whom she sees as encroaching on her space), and staying up most of the night watching horror movies that aren't remotely appropriate for kids. Andy eventually learns the reason Katie watches horror movies is to keep herself awake, as she's terrified she'll die like her mother if she goes to sleep due to the careless way death was explained to her.

    Live Action TV 
  • Dark Shadows: David Collins and Amy Jennings. Amy is outright called this by Dr. Julia Hoffman after the girl escapes from a sanitarium. She's an orphan, one of her brothers has died and the other one seems to want nothing to do with her at times (he's actually worried about her safety, as he's secretly a werewolf). Her cousin Joe also goes crazy and tries to kidnap her after witnessing her brother's transformation. David, meanwhile, has a strained-at-best relationship with his father (with the two being outright resentful of each other at times), was almost killed by Barnabas for getting too close to finding out the truth about him, and was almost burned alive along his own mother by her hand.
  • Family Affair: Buffy seems to be one of these when she arrives on Uncle Bill's doorstep in the pilot episode. She's only about six years old and has already lost both her parents, been separated from her siblings (including her twin brother) and is being left there by a relative who doesn't want her. She responds in curt "Yes, sir," and "No, sir," statements, bites French when he calls her a "little clot," and tries to run away when she thinks she'll be shipped off to a school in Switzerland. Thankfully, she's mostly better by the end of the episode - though she still lapses into moroseness at times throughout the series, especially in the earlier episodes. Her twin brother, Jody, seems less troubled, though he also has his fair share of moments.
  • Leverage: Luka, an orphan the team was sent to rescue in "The Stork Job". Getting used in a scam that sends orphans to loving prospective parents to milk all their money before being forcibly dragged back to an Orphanage of Fear will do that to you.
  • Stargate SG-1: Cassandra when the team brings her back to Earth after finding her as the sole survivor of her planet. She's a sweet enough kid but obviously disturbed by everything that she's been through, initially not speaking at all and drawing creepy drawings about what she's been through. The show lasted long enough for us to see her grow out of it and become a normal (i.e. rather bratty) teenager.
  • Yellowjackets: When Sammy transfers to a new school, the teacher reports he has trouble making friends. His bedroom window is covered in scary drawings of angry eyes and other things so that "the lady in the tree" cannot see him. He later hits another little boy on the playground (not unusual in itself) and then tears up his doll in a disturbing fashion after Taissa takes it away temporarily as punishment.

  • The Miracle Worker: Helen is a violent child who cannot communicate and frequently puts herself and others in danger. Her parents fear being forced to put her in an asylum for "mental defectives".
  • The Music Man: Winthrop is described by his older sister Marian as "a problem child who can't understand why his father was taken away." He lisps when he talks, too.
  • Quidam: Zoe is a lonely adolescent girl who feels alienated from everyone, including her parents. Her journey into a Magical Land shows her that everyone feels this way sometimes, and how she can connect/reconnect with others.

    Tabletop RPG 
  • Shadowrun: In the Divided Assets adventure, the PC's are hired to kidnap a young boy named Shawn Gaffney. After doing so, they discover that Shawn has psychological problems due to emotional neglect by his parents.

    Video Games 
  • Fuga: Melodies of Steel: Britz Strudel. His dad was coldly executed for treason against the Berman Empire, his family name was persecuted and shunned as a result, he left to be conscripted into the army and watched all the horrors his home country committed in the name of "glory", and in the game itself he gets tricked into betraying his new friends and potentially commits suicide as a result of it. While he still tries hard to be calm and approachable to the other kids on the Taranis, his war experiences have given him a gloomy demeanor and some self-esteem issues (as well as a brutal forehead scar), and he feels like him having served a fascist army makes him unworthy of anyone's compassion or respect. And he's carrying all of this baggage at the ripe old age of nine.

    Web Original 
  • Can You Spare a Quarter?: 12-year-old Jamie breaks down crying when he is with Graham, overwhelmed by the accumulated pain from being abused at home and having to prostitute himself in the street, a pain that he has bottled up for a long time.
  • Funny Business: Jeannette at first appears, both to the other characters and to the readers, to be a Cheerful Child, but she is really this trope. Ironically, a large part of her alienation is self-inflicted, as she doesn't want to burden anybody else with her problems.
  • The Nostalgia Critic: Thanks to abuse, the Critic when he was a kid. Just at kindergarten age, he was drawing pictures of his parents as monsters ripping him apart.

    Western Animation 
  • Daria: Link from the movie Is It Fall Yet? came out somewhere between this and a Mouthy Kid—he was clearly miserable (by his own admission) due to a difficult home life, but his attitude was less depressed and more angry as a result.
    • The titular character herself. Though more accurately a troubled teen, she had no interest in social interaction even as a child.
  • The Simpsons: Nelson Muntz, particularly after the 90s, has many a Freudian ExcuseParental Abandonment courtesy of a criminal father, constant Parental Neglect from a mother who strips to support them, and a lifestyle so impoverished that he's been known to eat tadpoles and drywall.