Emotional abuse of a child is typically the least reported type of child
abuse, although experts agree that it occurs simultaneously with other forms
of child abuse and neglect. Although the effects of emotional abuse may not
be as visible, they create serious and long-lasting psychological
challenges. The statistics cited are from the Child Welfare Gateway.
is emotional abuse?
Emotional abuse is often referred to as psychological abuse and is generally
defined as a pattern of behavior that impacts a child's social-emotional
development and feelings of self-worth. It can involve words, action, or
indifference. It may occur without other forms of child abuse and neglect,
but there is often an overlap. In 2008, national statistics show that 7% of
all child abuse reports were considered emotional or psychological abuse.
The statistics do not reflect how often emotional abuse may have been
associated with another issues such as physical abuse. Emotional abuse can
begin very young with infants and can continue through adolescence.
How do you identify Emotional Abuse?
Emotional abuse is difficult to identify and to prove. The lack of physical
injury or obvious mental trauma makes it challenging for protective service
workers to intervene. Experts look at patterns of abusive behavior of the
perpetrator such as continually shaming, humiliating or belittling a child;
extreme criticism, terrorizing, exposing a child to family violence or the
inability or unwillingness to provide affection and positive reinforcement.
The child victims may exhibit a range of behavioral indicators such as
compulsively seeking affection and attention, aggressive or antisocial
behaviors, lack of self-confidence, inability to react with emotion or bond
with others, or dramatic changes in behaviors.
of Emotional Abuse:
- Failure to Thrive - involves infants and young children not meeting age appropriate physical, social and emotional development.
- Exposure to other forms of abuse or violence in the home.
- Rejection or ignoring a child.
- Blaming a child for problems of the family or home.
- Isolation - or keeping a child from normal daily activities or interaction with friends or peers.
- Excessively critical remarks creating feelings of worthlessness.
are the effects of emotional abuse?
Research has shown that emotional abuse can create life-long
feelings of poor self-esteem, worthlessness, anxiety and other forms of
distress. As adults, many exhibit depression, a lack of empathy and
inappropriate or troubled relationships. Emotional abuse may also lead to
other self-destructive behaviors such as eating disorders, substance abuse
and abusive relationships.
What can be done?
The longer abuse continues, the greater the potential for serious and long
term emotional and psychological difficulties for the child. If you suspect
a child is being abused, it should be reported to your local Child
Protective Services Department (check your local yellow pages under child
abuse). If a child is in immediate danger, please call the police. For
crisis counseling, call ChildHelp at 1-800-4-A-CHILD.