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Emotional Child Abuse – Definition

Emotional Child Abuse – Definition

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. Emotional Child Abuse refers to acts or omissions that harm a child’s sense of self in a way that causes or could cause behavioural, cognitive and emotional disorders which involves harming a child’s sense of self.  It includes acts (or omissions) that result in, or place a child at risk of, serious behavioural, cognitive, emotional or mental health problems. It also means that the child is experiencing behaviours from an adult that hinders the ability of that child to develop appropriately on an emotional level. Examples of emotional child abuse include:

  • Constant belittling, shaming, and humiliating a child
  • Calling names and making negative comparisons to others
  • Exploitation
  • Exposing the child to violence or the abuse of others, whether it is the abuse of a parent, a sibling, or even a pet.
  • Exposing them to family violence
  • Forcing a child into social isolation
  • Frequent yelling, threatening, or bullying.
  • Ignoring or rejecting a child as punishment, giving them the ‘silent treatment’.
  • Intimidation
  • Limited physical contact with the child—no hugs, kisses, or other signs of affection.
  • Routinely making unreasonable demands
  • Telling a child he or she is “no good,” “worthless,” “bad,” or “a mistake.”
  • Terrorizing a child, routinely making unreasonable demands of a child
  • Verbal threats, put-downs

Emotional abuse may take the form of chronic exposure to alcohol or drug abuse, verbal attacks on a child’s sense of self, repeated humiliation or rejection. Exposure to violence or severe conflict in the home, forced isolation, restraint or causing a child to be afraid much of the time may also cause emotional harm. Emotional abuse is an attack on the child’s self-concept and self-worth. It is a pattern of ongoing behaviour by the parent or guardian that seriously interferes with the healthy development or the mental or emotional functioning of the child. Emotional abuse often happens along with other forms of abuse, such as neglect or physical abuse. Emotional abuse is the result of:

  • Corruption (permitting a child to use alcohol or drugs, watch or participate in cruelty to animals, or participate in criminal activities)
  • Exposure to chronic alcohol or drug use in the home
  • Exposure to family violence in the home
  • Negative exposure to someone with a mental or emotional condition (including suicidal or homicidal ideas) in the home
  • Rejection
  • The child being ignored or isolated
  • Threats, humiliation, unrealistic expectations, or inappropriate accusations/criticism;
  • Emotional injury is the least visible form of child abuse. In fact, a child may appear to be clean, well groomed and well fed. But the child may be sad, depressed, timid, angry or withdrawn. Emotional abuse has serious, long term effects on children and can often outlast the impact of neglect or physical injury. Listed below are some possible signs, of emotional abuse.


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