Emotional abuse of a child is the continuous emotional neglect or mistreatment of a minor. Emotional abuse is sometimes referred to as psychological abuse, and can involve the perpetrator deliberately humiliating or scaring the child, as well as ignoring or isolating the child. As such, the emotional abuse of a child can be extremely detrimental to the emotional health and development of a child.  In summation, emotional abuse can be defined as actions, speech, and behaviour of any significant figure in a child’s life that has a negative mental impact on the child.

What is Classified as Emotional Abuse?

Emotional abuse will be present in all forms of child abuse, making it challenging to differentiate emotional abuse from other forms of abuse. However, this type of abuse specifically includes the following:

  • Manipulating a child
  • Humiliating or constantly criticizing a child
  • Forcing a child to perform degrading acts
  • Name calling
  • Threatening violence (regardless of whether or not the violent act is carried out)
  • Using sarcasm to belittle a child or making the child the subject of a joke
  • Not being present for the child
  • Ignoring the child persistently
  • Not allowing the child to form friendships or close relationships with others
  • Blaming or making the child a scapegoat
  • Not realising a child’s limitations and pushing them too hard
  • Being over controlling of the child’s life
  • Exposing the child to domestic abuse or violence of any type
  • Exposing a child to substance abuse
  • Emotionally neglecting the child
  • Never expressing positive feelings, saying anything kind or congratulating a child on their successes.

 Emotional abuse is under reported

Because Emotional abuse of a child is inclusive of such a wide range of behaviours, it is one of the most under reported forms of abuse. While emotional abuse of children can happen in any family, it is most common in families that struggle with substance abuse, have financial difficulties, are in the process of or have gone through a divorce, or families that are dealing with single parenthood.

Why Does Abuse Happen?

As is clear from the families where emotional abuse is most rife, periods of high stress can encourage a situation where emotional abuse can occur. This is because in such situations the focus of the caregiver can be on matters other than providing love and support for the child, and thus they can become more short tempered with the child, leading to the different forms of emotional abuse.

Another reason that a parent or caregiver may be emotionally abusive toward their child, is because they themselves experienced this as a child. In such cases, the parent has not been exposed to a good parenting role model and so repeats the cycle of behaviour.  In other cases, a parent or caretaker may not understand their child’s behaviour, and thus lash out at them. Lastly, if a parent or caregiver and their child do not have a good bond that is constantly worked on, this too can result in the emotional abuse of the child.

Emotional abuse can have lasting effects on a child, and thus it is vital that the child receives the appropriate help to recover. Once the child is receiving the support they need, it is just as important that the abuser seeks treatment for their behaviour so as to put an end to the abusive pattern of behaviour.