Emotional abuse is the persistent emotional maltreatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child’s emotional development. Emotional abuse is involved in all types of maltreatment of a child, though it may occur alone.
External Signs of Emotional Abuse
There may not be any physical signs that a child is being emotionally abused or neglected, though emotional abuse often takes place alongside physical abuse and neglect.
Signs that may give cause for concern include households where a child is:
· Persistently criticized
· Blamed when things go wrong
· Made to carry out tasks inappropriate to their age
· Kept from engaging in normal childhood activities or mixing with other children
· Referred to as ‘him/her/it’, ‘that child’ or any reference other than the child’s name
· Threatened or insulted
· Called names
· Witness to the ill-treatment of another person or animal
· Being severely bullied
· Ignored or given the ‘silent’ treatment
· Publicly or privately humiliated
· Tormented with psychological ‘games’, such as purposefully keeping playthings out of child’s reach.
Behavioral Signs of a Child Being Emotionally Abused
A child suffering from emotional abuse may:
· Appear continually withdrawn, anxious or depressed
· Display excessive fear of parents or carers
· Avoid doing things with other children
· Behave much younger than his or her age
· Behave older than their age eg ‘a little mother’
· Lag in physical, emotional or cognitive development
· Wet the bed
· Blame themselves for problems or believe they are ‘bad’
· Overreact when they make mistakes
· Have inappropriate reaction to pain eg ‘I deserve this’
· Demonstrate neurotic behaviours such as hair twisting or rocking
· Self-harm or attempt suicide
Behavioral Signs of the Adults Responsible for or Aware of the Abuse
The adults responsible or aware may:
· Isolate their child
· Favour other children over one particular child and treat them differently
· Blame the child for the family’s problems
· Appear unconcerned about any problem’s the child has
· Express negative thoughts and feelings about the child
· Belittle their child
· Withhold love and attention
NB it is sometimes easier to identify a case of emotional abuse through the actions of the parent or carer.
Emotional abuse can affect a child from infancy, through adolescence, and into adulthood.
It can setback a child’s physical development; for example, tense meal times can affect a child’s eating.
It can hold back a child’s mental development, such as their intelligence and memory, and put a child at greater risk of developing mental health problems, such as eating disorders and self-harming.
It can hamper a child’s emotional development, including their ability to feel and express a full range of emotions appropriately, and to control their emotions.
It can put a child at greater risk of developing one or more behavioural problems, such as:
- learning difficulties
- problems with relationships and socialising
- rebellious behaviour
- aggressive and violent behaviour
- anti-social behaviour and criminality
- self-isolating behaviour (making people dislike you)
- negative impulsive behaviour (not caring what happens to yourself).
People who have suffered emotional abuse in childhood are at greater risk of psychological problems in later life.