emotional child abuse


“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” This old saying could not be farther from the truth. Emotional child abuse may seem invisible, but the effects are long-lasting and very damaging. Constant belittling, shaming, and humiliating, making negative comparisons to others, continually telling a child they are “no good,” “worthless,” “bad,” or “a mistake” are all forms of harmful emotional abuse. It is not only what is said, but how a child is spoken to – such as yelling, threatening, or bullying – can terrify a child as well. Withholding love and affection, ignoring or rejecting a child, or giving them the silent treatment can also have damaging effects.

Another piece of emotional abuse is exposing a child to inappropriate situations or behavior. Witnessing acts that cause feelings of helplessness and terror, such as domestic violence or witnessing a sibling or pet being abused can cause long-lasting trauma in a child.

Signs of emotional child abuse may include:

  • Behavioral signs: Emotional abuse is often difficult to detect because it does not leave any obvious marks. Behavioral extremes, such as excessive shyness or being overly afraid of doing something wrong may be a clue that a child is being emotionally abused. Antisocial behavior, uncontrolled aggression and inappropriate age behaviors such as an older child showing behaviors commonly found in younger children are all signs of emotional abuse.
  • Caregiver signs: Emotionally abusive caregivers may have issues with controlling their anger and have an excessive need for control. They may be unusually harsh or critical of a child, belittling or shaming them in front of others. A caregiver might also seem strangely indifferent to a child’s well-being or performance. It is important to remember there may not be immediate signs from a caregiver. Many emotionally abusive caregivers present a kind face to the outside world, making the abuse all the more confusing and scary for the child.