Understanding Emotional Child Abuse


April is Child Abuse Awareness month, but it’s such an important topic that it should be discussed year round. When many people think of child abuse, they tend to think of children getting physically abused in some way. Sadly, there are many children who suffer through emotional child abuse as well. The only difference in terms of the overall effect on the child is that those who deal with emotional child abuse tend to carry their wounds on the inside. Stopping child abuse requires vigilance on the part of everyone who interacts with a child, from parents to teachers to neighbors.

What is Emotional Child Abuse?

The American Humane Association defines emotional child abuse as any pattern of behavior by caregivers interferes with a child’s emotional, psychological or cognitive development. Some of the more obvious forms of emotional child abuse include:

  • Verbal assaults such as calling the child nasty names, belittling the child (i.e.- you’ll never amount to anything, you’re so stupid, and so on), and threatening harm to the child.
  • Terrorizing the child by holding loved ones (such as pets or siblings) hostage and threatening to harm these loved ones if the child does not act a certain way.
  • Emotional neglect, which may include refusing to allow the child access to educational or emotional resources.

Other less obvious forms of emotional child abuse include:

  • Ignoring or rejecting the child. Every parent occasionally says “I’m sorry, I don’t have time to play with you right now.” That is not abuse. If, however, you constantly ignore your child’s existence and reject him by refusing physical affection such as hugs, there’s a problem.
  • Corrupting the child. Parents who use their children to steal or commit other crimes are setting their child up for a lifetime of serious problems. No child should be encouraged to engage in illegal activity. Nor should they be encouraged to cover up their parents illegal activities.

The effects of emotional child abuse on a child

Emotional child abuse can cut very deeply into a child’s psyche. It can also cause long-lasting effects that may carry over into the next generation. Many child abusers were abused themselves. This creates a chain that is difficult to break. Short-term effects can include difficulty concentrating in school, constant fear and anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. Children who are bullied at home are also likely to become bullies themselves.

In the long run, it can lead to many other severe issues. These can include an inability to display emotions towards other and  lack of empathy. It may also lead to animal abuse. In some cases, it can cause psychotic behavior. While not all emotionally abused children grow up to become serial killers, a large portion of violent criminals have suffered either physical or emotional abuse as children.

Stopping emotional child abuse

Sadly, when it comes to putting a stop to emotional child abuse, the authorities often have their hands tied. Even those who work in child protective services admit that they don’t often go after cases involving emotional abuse because they simply can’t prove it. When a child shows up with broken bones, bruises, burn marks, and cuts on their body, it’s easier to prove that the child is being abused. Emotional child abuse doesn’t leave behind any physical evidence. Many child protection agencies simply do not have the resources to embark on a long trial to prove the parent’s guilt. School counselors and other professionals who have the opportunity to observe the child up close over a period of time can be helpful in recognizing such abuse. Again,though,  proving it to someone with the authority to remove the child from their threatening environment is a challenge.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t all be vigilant and at least attempt to step in when we see a child being emotionally abused. It just means that our work will be a little harder! A child’s future is at stake, though. It’s worth it to stand up and fight.

Photo Credit: Morguefile.com

5 thoughts on “Understanding Emotional Child Abuse”

  1. I was one of the fortunate kids – I discovered something very powerful as an abused baby. I asked for help and hoped that someone was listening. Fortunately there were many listeners, hence my new book: GUIDED.. It’s a true story that is written to help abused or children being abused rise above it. GUIDED will be available on Amazon November 9, 2014.

  2. Excellent post and I’m so glad you you brought this topic to light. Emotional abuse is very much child abuse, but what sucks is that it can be hidden so well. I really like that you shared what are examples of emotional child abuse because I do believe there are some parents and caregivers who don’t know that what they are doing is wrong. May be if they read something like this, they might.

  3. The hard thing with emotional child abuse is that it is so hard to spot. Physical abuse, you can see the bruses. Child abuse, like you said they wear it on the inside. YOu can’t detect it and get the child help unless the child speaks up for themselves. which is rare. And when they do, you have an even harder time to prove it! Because there are no physical signs. Such an important topic. Thanks for bringing awareness to it.

  4. Thanks for sharing! I’m glad that you are raising awareness and that April is dedicated to bringing awareness to people. It breaks my heart that people could be mean to a child.

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