Emotional abuse may be the only form of abuse suffered by a child, or it might be an element of other child abuse and neglect. Brief mentions of this type of abuse may be the only available signs of child abuse and these signs may present themselves in the form of hints and attempts to convey the abuse on the part of the victim.

The NSPCC classes the below as emotional abuse:
– humiliating or criticising a child
– disciplining a child with degrading punishments
– not recognising a child’s own individuality and limitations
– exposing a child to distressing events or interactions
– failing to promote a child’s social development
– persistently ignoring a child
– being absent
– never expressing positive feelings towards a child
– never showing any emotions in interactions with a child

Emotional abuse can affect a child from infancy, through adolescence, and into adulthood. A parent’s behaviour is central to a child’s development. Signs that a child may be suffering emotional abuse include a parent’s constant negative and harsh behaviour towards their child and a fearful, distant or unaffectionate relationship.

A child’s physical development can be delayed due to emotional abuse. For example, tense meal times can affect a child’s eating. Emotional abuse can hold back a child’s mental development, such as their intelligence and memory. It can also increase the risk of a child developing mental health problems, such as eating disorders and self-harming.

Emotional abuse can put a child at greater risk of developing one or more behavioural problems, such as: learning difficulties, problems with relationships and socialising, rebellious behaviour, aggressive and violent behaviour, anti-social behaviour and criminality, self-isolating behaviour and not caring what happens to themseleves.

The signs above do not necessarily mean a child is being emotionally abused. However, if you think a child’s emotions, mental capacities or behaviour seem very different from other children of the same age then it may indicate an emotionally abusive relationship with a parent.

If you think a child is in immediate danger contact the police on 999, or call the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000. If you are worried about a child, but unsure, discuss your concerns with the NSPCC. Counsellors will assess the information you give them and can take action on your behalf, if necessary.

To read our article on the government considering the emotional abuse ‘Cinderella Law’ visit here.


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