Understanding emotional child abuse – risks, signs, prevention

Emotional child abuse (or psychological abuse) is a wide range of parents’ or caregivers’ behaviors that systematically maltreat children’s psyche and seriously impair their normal psychological and emotional development.

This type of child maltreatment might be the cruelest of them all in terms of persistency and severity of consequences. Emotional child abuse is difficult to prove, treat, and conquer. Its effects often carry on from generation to generation.

What is emotional child abuse?

Intentional or subconscious behaviors in which parents make their kids feel bad about themselves, unworthy of love, respect, friends, success, attention, protection, etc. usually involves:

-verbal insults, name calling,

-humiliating and belittling

-constant criticizing

-never praising or expressing positive emotions toward a child

-too much discipline and degrading punishments

-lack of respect for child’s individuality

-withholding support and guidance

-preventing child’s social life, over controlling

-terrorizing (threatening with harm or things/situation (s)he’s afraid of)

Emotional child abuse is not an isolated incident

Psychological maltreatment of kids can be very subtle or very conspicuous. It can be active (vicious and deliberate) or passive (more silent), but it’s usually the worst and most destructive combination of both.

Negative attitudes are complex and often imprecise to be defined as abuse. There isn’t a parent in the world who hasn’t occasionally lost control and said insulting things to their kids. This is not considered abuse. Experts agree that emotional child abuse is a persistent, chronic behavioral pattern.


Statistics on emotional child abuse

-Although child abuse has a growing trend, the average number from 1999 to 2007 was around 900,000 cases per year. Out of this, 7.1% (or 63,900) are confirmed cases of severe emotional abuse.

Number of unreported cases is almost three times larger from those who get reported to Child Protective Services

-It happens in families of all social backgrounds, regardless of culture, race, or financial status

-Boys and girls equally suffer from psychological molestations

-Most abused kids suffer from multiple types of abuse (physical, sexual, or neglect)

-80% of adults who suffered some form of abuse while they were kids develop some kind of psychological disorder

Risk factors – what causes people to emotionally abuse kids

Stressful outside factors and unresolved personal issues can be an important factor in developing abusive behavior. Some of them are:

-Parents who were also abused as kids

-Divorcing parents

-Lack of knowledge of child development

-Families with domestic abuse, parents addicted to drugs or alcohol

How to recognize warning signs of emotional child abuse

-Kids are fearful of parents or keep saying they hate them

-Low self-esteem: child will say and act as if (s)he is worthless

-Anxiety and depression: withdrawal from friends, no interest to do or participate in anything

-Sudden bursts of seemingly unprovoked, yet uncontrolled anger

-Stuttering or bedwetting

Effect of emotional child abuse – what are the consequences

If it’s not combined with other forms of child molestations, psychological abuse is very difficult to recognize and stop. Hidden scars can become serious psychological problems with time, often resulting in suicide. Low self-esteem, sense of worthlessness, insecurity, anger, eating disorders, personality disorders, depression, anxiety, neediness, substance abuse, unwanted pregnancies – these are all potential consequences that many victims face long into their adult age. If untreated, effects of emotional abuse during childhood often prevent them developing healthy relationships, being successful at work, or keeping away from troubles with law.

Prevention of emotional child abuse – what can you do

If you suspect your behavior is bordering emotional abuse, you must seek help from professionals, who will help you deal with stress or personal problems, train you how to overcome your bad behavior, and advise/assist you to learn how to understand, appreciate, and be happy with your child.

If you suspect someone else’s child is being psychologically abused, you can contact the local children or family service department, or call the National Child Abuse Hotline.

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