Emotional and psychological abuse in children

Abuse is any kind of maltreatment by an individual which is violent or threatening for the other. Most of the times abuse is intentional, however; sometimes it is unintentional behavior. Abuse can be of several types including,

  • Physical abuse
  • Psychological or emotional abuse
  • Sexual abuse

Children are estimated to be the highest targets of abuse. The respective article discusses details regarding emotional or psychological abuse in children.

What is Emotional or Psychological Abuse?

The negative impact that the society poses on the minds of the children by its negative behaviors, speech, and actions is what we call child emotional or psychological abuse. These negative behavioral stimuli can be from the parents, close relatives, or other noteworthy figures in a child’s life that manipulate the mentality of the children.
Experts define emotional or psychological abuse as a pattern of behavior that weakens the emotional development or sense of self-esteem in children.

Name calling, insulting, threatening violence, allowing children to witness the physical or emotional abuse of another, and withholding love, support, or guidance are common examples of emotional abuse. Abusive behaviors have a wide range and all forms are thought to be under-reported.

More than 6.6 million American children are involved in referral to state Child Protective Services (CPS). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated in 2014 that over 702,000 children were confirmed by CPS as victims of abuse and negligence.

Lack of family cohesion, broken families dealing with single parenthood or experiencing divorce or families with financial issues are often seen with more reported cases of child abuse.

Warning signs of child abuse

Signs of emotional abuse in a child may include,

  • Expressing hatred towards parents or themselves
  • Being fearful of a parent
  • Emotional immaturity and sudden changes in the speech like starting to stammer in a midway of a conversation
  • Experiencing a sudden behavioral change such as doing poorly in school
  • Showing little regard towards family, relatives, or friends

What causes emotional abuse in children?

A lot of behavioral responses from people contribute to emotional abuse in children. Possible causes of emotional abuse include,


Ignoring a child or telling him/her that he/she is unwanted or unloved psychologically abuses children. Not listening to the child, breaking promises, not validating his/her emotions or cutting the child off in between conversations can add to the situation.

Shaming or humiliating

Calling child names, criticizing, berating or chiding the child creates a sense of humiliation among children. Belittling, demeaning, or using an inappropriate language that targets the child’s feelings of self-worth also promote the situation.


Accusing the child, blaming, insulting, or punishing him/her over small matters terrorizes or threatens the child. Setting a child up for failure, taking advantage of a child’s weakness or reliance on adults, slandering, screaming, and yelling also manipulates the children psychologically.

Image taken from Odisha Sun times


Keeping the child away from positive activities, confining the child to a small, restricted area, forbidding him/her to play also comes under the category of emotional abuse.


Engaging children in criminal acts, telling lies to rationalize actions or ideas, and encouraging misbehavior are also some causes of emotional or psychological abuse in children.

What are the long-term effects of child abuse?

Abuse affects its victims not only physically but mentally also. Emotional abuse, especially, affects the mental development of an individual. Psychologically abused children find difficulty in making and keeping strong relationships. It can also lead them to a poor performance in school or at work as well.

A recent study was conducted at Purdue University regarding the relevant issue. The researchers of the study revealed that people who fall victim to emotional or physical abuse as children have a higher risk of developing cancer. They also experience higher rates of alcohol and drug abuse. Moreover, it is predicted that children who experience abuse and do not seek help are likely to become abusers themselves as adults.

Head trauma, poor mental acumen, bruises, scrapes, poor hygiene, and poor corporal health are common physical effects or signs that may demonstrate that a child is experiencing or has experienced abuse.
Psychologically abused children are more likely to fall depressed, anxious, less confident, dissociative, fearful, hyper-vigilant, exhaustive etc. They also experience eating disorders, a troubled sleep, and are more or less found involved in criminal activities.

Is there any possible recovery for the victim?

An emotionally abused child is completely possible to recover. Seeking help for the victim is the key step toward its recovery.

Here are some national resources that can help in these efforts,

  1. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7 via chat or phone (1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224). You can contact service providers and shelters across the country to supply free and confidential support.
  2. Child Welfare Information Gateway sponsors the security and well-being of children, teens, and families. It provides links, including family support services.
  3. Healthfinder.gov aims at providing information and links ensuring support for children and families on many health topics, including child abuse and neglect.
  4. Prevent Child Abuse America promotes services that support children’s well-being and develops programs to help prevent child abuse and neglect.
  5. National Child Abuse Hotline provides a 24/7 service at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453). It provides information on free help in your area.

Almost every state of America has its own child abuse hotline. You can contact any hotline for assistance.

Image from AA Ross Counseling

What can YOU do for the victim?

Abuse leading children to criminal acts like doing drugs can be instantly harmful. In such cases, you must call 911 immediately. Local children or family services departments can also help in this regard. You can speak to a counselor, tell them the details and ask for relevant actions or solutions. You can report the suspected abuse anonymously too. In case it’s not possible for you to contact a family services agency, you can seek help from someone you trust. It could be your teacher, relative, doctor, or a clergy person who can help.

When you’re helping someone, who you suspect is being abused, first of all, make sure that you help them within safe limits. Your help or concern must not harm the suspect. Don’t do anything that would increase the risk of abuse for the child.

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