Child abuse is more than bruises and broken bones. While physical abuse might be the most visible, other types of abuse, such as emotional abuse and neglect, also leave deep, lasting scars. The earlier abused children get help, the greater chance they have to heal and break the cycle—rather than perpetuate it. By learning about common signs of abuse and what you can do to intervene, you can make a huge difference in a child’s life.
Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me? Contrary to this old saying, emotional abuse can severely damage a child’s mental health or social development, leaving lifelong psychological scars.
Examples of emotional child abuse include:
- Constant belittling, shaming, and humiliating a child.
- Calling names and making negative comparisons to others.
- Telling a child he or she is “no good”, “worthless”, “bad”, or “a mistake.”
- Frequent yelling, threatening, or bullying.
- Ignoring or rejecting a child as punishment, giving him or her silent treatment.
- Limited physical contact with the child—no hugs, kisses, or other signs of affection.
- Exposing the child to violence or the abuse of others, whether it be the abuse of a parent, a sibling, or even a pet.
Warning signs of emotional abuse in children
- Excessively withdrawn, fearful, or anxious about doing something wrong.
- Shows extremes in behavior (extremely compliant or extremely demanding; extremely passive or extremely aggressive).
- Doesn’t seem to be attached to the parent or caregiver.
- Acts either inappropriately adult (taking care of other children) or inappropriately infantile (rocking, thumb-sucking, throwing tantrums).
Risk factors for emotional abuse
- Domestic violence—Witnessing domestic violence is terrifying to children and emotionally abusive.
- Alcohol and drug abuse— Living with an alcoholic or addict is very difficult for children and can easily lead to abuse and neglect.
- Untreated mental illness— Parents who suffering from depression, an anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, or another mental illness have trouble taking care of themselves, much less their children.
- Lack of parenting skills— Some caregivers never learned the skills necessary for good parenting. Teen parents, for example, might have unrealistic expectations about how much care babies and small children need.
- Stress and lack of support— Parenting can be a very time-intensive, difficult job, especially if you’re raising children without support from family, friends, or the community or you’re dealing with relationship problems or financial difficulties.
How we avoid emotional abuse
- Learn what age appropriate is and what is not…. Having realistic expectations from children for example toddlers are not going to be able to sit quietly for extended periods of time.
- Develop new parenting skills…. Start by learning appropriate discipline techniques and how to set clear boundaries for your children.
- Take care of yourself…. Sleep deprivation, common in parents of young children, adds to moodiness and irritability—exactly what you are trying to avoid.
- Get professional help…. Breaking the cycle of abuse can be very difficult if the patterns are strongly entrenched. If you can’t seem to stop yourself no matter how hard you try, it’s time to get help, be it therapy, parenting classes, or other interventions. Your children will thank you for it.
- Learn how you can get your emotions under control….. The first step to getting your emotions under control is realizing that they are there. If you were abused as a child, you may have an especially difficult time getting in touch with your range of emotions. You may have had to deny or repress them as a child, and now they spill out without your control.