Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse is defined as 'the ongoing emotional mistreatment of a child, leading to severe and persistent negative effects on the child's emotional development'.

A parent's behaviour is central to a child's development. This type of abuse may include telling a child negative things about them such as they are worthless, stupid, unloved or inadequate. It may also include not giving a child opportunities to express their views, deliberately silencing them or 'making fun' of what they say or how they communicate.

It may feature age or developmentally inappropriate expectations being placed on a child. It can also include exposing a child to interactions beyond their developmental capability, as well as overprotection and limitation of exploration and learning, or preventing a child participating in normal social interaction.

It may involve seeing or hearing the ill–treatment of another, such as serious bullying (including cyberbullying), causing a child to frequently feel frightened or in danger, or the exploitation or corruption of children. Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of maltreatment of a child, though it may occur alone.

Behaviour signs by the parent or carer can include:

  • A fearful, distant or unaffectionate relationship
  • Ignoring a child–s presence or actively refusing to respond to a child–s needs, for example refusing to show affection
  • Consistently failing to stimulate, encourage or protect a child
  • Constant negative and harsh behaviour such as belittling, name calling or threatening a child
  • Isolating a child, preventing a child from having normal social contacts with other children and adults
  • Terrorising a child, creating a climate of fear and intimidation where they are too frightened to disclose what is happening
  • Corrupting a child by encouraging them to engage in destructive, illegal or anti–social behaviour

Signs and effects from the child can include:

  • Delayed physical development, for example tense meal times can affect a child–s eating
  • Lack of sleep
  • Deprivation of liberty, this could be false imprisonment
  • Unexpected or unexplained changes in behaviour
  • Eating disorders
  • Self–harming
  • Being anxious about, or avoiding, people
  • Problems with relationships and socialising such as difficulty making friends
  • Being withdrawn or unhappy
  • Fear
  • Depression
  • Confusion
  • Delayed mental development, such as intelligence and memory
  • Inability to feel, express or control the expected range of emotions appropriate for their age
  • Learning difficulties
  • Rebellious behaviour
  • Aggressive and violent behaviour
  • Anti–social behaviour and criminality
  • Self–isolating behaviour (making people dislike you)
  • Negative impulsive behaviour (not caring what happens to them)

If any of these signs are familiar, see who can help here.

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