Emotional Abuse of Children

Understanding the different forms of emotional abuse of children

Many parents who would never abuse their child physically are guilty of emotional or psychological child abuse. This type of abuse is one of the most under-reported forms of abuse because it is more difficult to recognize.

However, its impact is just as harmful to the child as physical abuse. Continue reading to learn more about emotional abuse of children.

Emotional or psychological abuse is defined as a pattern of behavior, words, or conditions that “have a negative mental impact on the child.” There may not be outward marks of abuse, but the inward damage is just as traumatizing.

Who is at risk of emotionally abusing their child?

Emotional abuse of children can occur in any family. However, according to the cases reported they tend to be more common when these factors are present:

  • Financial problems within the family
  • A single parent is the head of the home
  • Divorce
  • Difficulties with substance or alcohol abuse

What types of emotional abuse are there?

Emotional or psychological abuse can take many forms. Most children's workers agree that six types of emotional abuse are common:

Rejecting: Parents who display this type of behavior will make the child feel rejected by their words, attitudes, or behavior. Making comments that belittle the child's abilities or worth is one way this abuse occurs.

It may take the form of refusing to offer physical touch to the child or neglecting the child's emotional needs. The overall message the child receives from the parent is that he or she is not wanted or loved.

Ignoring: Another form of emotional abuse that is similar to rejection is ignoring a child's needs. Whether it be the emotional need to connect or the physical need for medical care, when children's needs are not met, they suffer abuse. Research indicates that parents who have been emotionally abused themselves often struggle to meet the emotional needs of their children.

Terrorizing: When parents engage in screaming, threatening, or cursing, they are terrorizing their child. Humiliating, ridiculing, and intimidating the child are also forms of terrorizing. If a child feels threatened by the violent reactions of the parent (either verbally or physically), then they suffer the affects of child abuse.

Just as harmful is the parent who places inconsistent and unreasonable demands of the child. This type of environment of inconsistency and violent speech and/or actions is detrimental to children.

Isolating: Parents who engage in isolation do not allow their child to participate in age-appropriate activities. They keep their child isolated from the outside world largely and may go so far as to keep them in the bedroom much of the time. The latter would be more common with young children. A pattern of discouraging social activities or friendships is an attempt to isolate and is considered child abuse.

Corrupting: When a parent allows their child to participate in harmful or illegal behavior, they are abusing their child. Activities that corrupt a child include:

  • Allowing the child to use drugs or drink alcohol
  • Permitting the child to view pornographic material
  • Allowing the child to participate in any criminal behavior (i.e. stealing, gambling, assault, prostitution, and so on)
  • Allowing the child to witness any of the above criminal activities

Exploiting: This type of child abuse occurs when a parent consistently forces or manipulates the child to perform tasks that are beyond their age or capabilities. For example, requiring a seven-year old child to clean the house or prepare lunch on a regular basis would be exploiting.

Although, some children may be more mature or desire to participate in chores, if the expectations are unreasonable and unwanted, then the parent has crossed the line into child abuse. Emotional abuse also occurs when a recent divorcee expects the child to take care of his or her emotional needs.

Signs of emotional child abuse

Every child responds differently to emotional abuse, but some common signs include:

  • Emotional problems such as low self-worth
  • Self-hatred evidenced by putting oneself down or harming oneself
  • Sleep or eating disorders
  • Problems with schoolwork or concentration
  • Expressing extreme fear of parent
  • Exhibiting any unusual developments in speech or behavior
  • Emotionally immature

Getting help

Emotional abuse of children: Parents who emotionally abuse their children need the help of trained professionals to break the cycle of abuse. Connecting families to resources is the first step in healing. Children who have been abused can heal from the affects of child abuse with intervention.

If you know someone you suspect is being abused, seek help for the family by calling the appropriate anonymous hotline.

Last Reviewed:
July 02, 2017
Last Updated:
October 16, 2017
Content Source: