What Is Emotional and Psychological Abuse in
psychological abuse in children is defined as behaviors, speech, and
actions of parents, caregivers, or other significant figures in a child’s life
that have a negative mental impact on the child.
Depending on the nature of the emotional or psychological abuse
tactic employed, it can also be referred to as child neglect. The U.S.
government defines emotional abuse as neglect when there is a “pattern of
behavior that impairs a child’s emotional development or sense of self-worth.”
Examples of abuse include:
- threatening violence (even without carrying out
- allowing children to witness the physical or
emotional abuse of another
- allowing children to use illegal drugs
It’s very difficult to know how common child emotional abuse is.
A wide range of behaviors can be considered abusive, and all forms are
considered underreported. Childhelp
estimates that more than three million reports of child abuse are made every year
in the United States.
Child abuse occurs in all types of families. However, reported
abuse appears to be most common in families that:
- have financial difficulties
- are dealing with single parenthood
- are experiencing or experienced a divorce
- struggle with substance abuse issues
What Are the Signs of Child Emotional Abuse?
Signs of emotional abuse in a child may include:
- being fearful of parent
- saying they hate the parent
- talking badly about themselves (“I’m stupid”)
- seeming emotionally immature when compared to
- exhibiting sudden changes in speech, such as
- experiencing sudden change in behavior, such as
doing poorly in school
Signs in a parent or caregiver include:
- showing little or no regard for the child
- talking badly about the child
- not touching or holding the child affectionately
- not tending to the child’s medical needs
Who Should I Tell?
If you or someone you know is being emotionally abused, contact
your local children or family services departments. Ask to speak to a
counselor. You can also call the National Child Abuse
Hotline at 1-800-4ACHILD (1-800-422-4453) for information on free help in
your area. Many family services departments allow callers to report suspected
If it’s not possible to contact a family services agency, ask
someone you trust, such as a teacher, relative, doctor, or clergyperson for
help. You might be able to help a family you are concerned about by offering to
babysit or run errands. However, don’t put yourself at risk or do anything that
would increase risk for the child you’re concerned about.
Some forms of abuse, such as yelling, may not be immediately
dangerous. However, other forms, such as allowing children to use drugs, can be
instantly harmful. If you have any reason to believe you or a child you know is
in danger, call 911 immediately.
No one deserves to be abused. If you’re worried about what will
happen to the child’s parents or caregivers, remember that getting them help is
the best way to show them you love them.
What Can I Do If I Think I May Be Harming My
Child in This Way?
Even the best parents have yelled at their children or used angry
words in times of stress. That’s not necessarily abusive. However, you should
consider calling a counselor if you notice a pattern in your behavior.
Parenting is the toughest and the most important job you will
ever do. Seek the resources to do it well. For example, change your behavior if
you regularly use alcohol or illegal drugs. These habits can affect how well
you care for your children.
Long-Term Effects of Emotional Abuse
Child emotional abuse is linked to poor mental development and
difficulty making and keeping strong relationships. It can lead to problems in
school and at work, and to criminal behavior.
A recent study at Purdue University
reported that adults who were victims of emotional or physical abuse as
children have a higher risk for developing cancer.
They also have higher incident rates of alcohol and drug abuse.
Children who are emotionally or physically abused and do not seek help can
become abusers themselves as adults.
Is It Possible for a Child Who Is Abused to
It’s completely possible for a child who has been emotionally
abused to recover. Seeking help for the child victim is the first and most
important step. The next effort should be to get help for the abuser and other