Unlike physical abuse, there are no obvious physical signs of the emotional abuse of a child. A child who is emotionally abused will usually feel confused about the abuse, and even ashamed or guilty. As such, the child may feel scared to tell anyone about the abuse. This is especially true if the abuser is a close family friend, relative or parent. However, there are certain signs and symptoms to watch out for in a child’s actions or emotions, if you suspect the emotional abuse of a child. However, it is important to remember that changes in emotions are a normal part of growing up, before accusing someone for the emotional abuse of a child.

In general, babies and young children who are being emotionally abused may lack confidence or be anxious, be aggressive or nasty toward other children or animals, and they may be overly affectionate towards strangers. Emotional abuse of a child in an older child can generally be seen in that they struggle to control strong emotions and have outbursts, they may act in a way, know about things or say things that you wouldn’t expect of a child of their age, and they may lack good social skills and thus have few friends.

Physical Signs and Symptoms of Emotional Abuse of a Child

The physical signs of emotional abuse vary according to the severity of the abuse and type of emotional abuse. However, some of the signs include the following;

  • Learning disabilities
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Bed wetting or soiling with no medical cause
  • Prolonged diarrhoea or vomiting
  • Dressed differently to other children in the family
  • Frequent complaints of headaches, nausea or abdominal pain that is psychosomatic
  • Has different living conditions to other children in the family
  • Has not reached significant development milestones

Behavioural Signs and Symptoms of Emotional Abuse of a Child

Emotional abuse of a child can often lead to certain behavioural issues in the abused child. Examples of behavioural signs that indicate abuse of a child include;

  • Problems in school
  • Poor social and relationship skills
  • Abusive toward others
  • Withdrawal
  • Violent behaviour
  • Self-harm
  • Suicide attempts
  • High-risk sexual behaviour
  • Teen pregnancy
  • Severe developmental gaps
  • Substance abuse
  • During play, models negative behaviour or language experienced at home
  • Attention seeking behaviour
  • Overly compliant, extremely well mannered, neat and clean

Mental and Emotional Signs and Symptoms of Emotional Abuse of a Child

Emotional abuse of a child inevitably takes an emotional and mental toll on the child. These signs and symptoms include the following;

  • Difficulties with trust
  • Difficulties with intimacy
  • Inability to cope with stress or frustration
  • Personality disorders
  • Low self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Delayed or inappropriate emotional development
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Troubles with sleep
  • Attachment issues

If you suspect the emotional abuse of a child, it is also important to look at the caregiver of the child’s behaviour. All parents tell their children off from time to time, and every relationship goes through rocky patches. However, if you notice severe or constant harsh behaviour toward the child, and the child is either scared or withdrawn from the caregiver – it is likely that child is being emotionally abused. However, it is important to keep in mind that the warning signs and symptoms listed above are just that, signs. They do not necessarily mean that the child is being abused. It is important that you follow the correct procedures to help the child if you do suspect the emotional abuse of a child.