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Signs and Behaviours of Emotional Child Abuse

Signs and Behaviours of Emotional Child Abuse

Emotional abuse is a pattern of behaviour that attacks a child’s emotional development and sense of self-worth. Emotional abuse includes excessive, aggressive or unreasonable demands that place expectations on a child beyond his or her capacity. Constant criticizing, belittling, insulting, rejecting and teasing are some of the forms these verbal attacks can take. Emotional abuse also includes failure to provide the psychological nurturing necessary for a child’s psychological growth and development — providing no love, support or guidance (National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse, 1987).
Parent or family’s behavioural signs - The parent may:
  • Blame, belittle the child in public, puts down child
  • Blame the child for their own problems and disappointments
  • Identify the child with disliked family members
  • Indifferent to child’s problems or welfare
  • Is cold and rejecting
  • Refuse to comfort the child when the child is upset or frightened
  • Shows preferential treatment when there is more than one child in the family
  • Talk about the child in negative ways (stupid, bad, troublemaker, useless)
  • Treat other children in the home better (more acceptance and less criticism)
  • Withholds affection
Child’s behavioural and warning signs of emotional abuse in children - The child may:
  • Acts either as an inappropriately adult (taking care of other children) or inappropriately infantile
  • Bites self
  • Child rocking
  • Tantruming
  • thumb-sucking
  • Be either boastful, negative statements about self
  • Be overly compliant, passive or shy
  • Be scared of failure
  • Constantly apologize
  • Cruel to others
  • Cry for no apparent reason
  • Demand adult attention
  • Demonstrates compulsions, obsessions, phobias, hysterical outbursts
  • Doesn’t seem to be attached to the parent or caregiver
  • Excessively withdrawn, fearful, or anxious about doing something wrong
  • Give up easily
  • Have episodes of aggressive, angry and demanding behaviour
  • Have speech delays
  • Have trouble concentrating
  • Have trouble learning
  • Have trouble sleeping, suffers from sleep, speech disorders
  • Have problems with bed-wetting or fecal incontinence
  • Inappropriately aggressive, destructive to others
  • Lags in physical, mental and emotional development
  • Self destructive behaviour
  • Show anxiety, fear or depression
  • Shows extremes in behaviour (extremely compliant or extremely demanding, extremely passive or extremely aggressive)
Note: any one of these indicators could be attributable to a specific life event or other trauma. A pattern of behaviour is the strongest indicator of abuse and should not be ignored
Emotional Child Abuse Signs
Research shows that emotional abuse signs differ not only according to age, but in many cases, according to gender. Contrasting signs are in part due to styles of parenting boys vs. parenting girls. Boys are still taught that crying is not masculine, and that displaying anger and other physical behaviours are acceptable. Girls are taught that anger is not ladylike and that showing emotion is part of being female. Differing social expectations contribute to the way boys and girls display signs of emotional abuse. This was the case when I was growing up.
Emotional Abuse Signs:
·         Aggression
·         temper tantrums
·         fights with peers and siblings
·         bullying tactics
·         frustrates easily
·         disobedience
·         lying and cheating
·         destructive behaviours
·         impulsive behaviours
·         argumentative
·         loud
·         tease excessively
·         worry excessively
·         withdrawn
·         withdrawn
·         passive
·         approval-seeking
·         compliant
·         frustrates easily
·         infinite patience
·         clinging to adults
·         overly dependent
·         stubborn
·         tease excessively
·         worry excessively
·         somatic complaints

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