Emotional Abuse

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· Appear continually withdrawn, anxious or depressed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.

Effects (NSPCC)

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.

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One comment

  1. What can be done about this legally ? Who can protect children involved in witnessing and receiving constant emotional abuse? There is so much info written but I can’t find anything on how to rectify the situation.

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