Emotional Child Abuse

Abuse does not have to be physical to qualify as abuse. Social services’ emotional child abusecases are equally as important as their physical abuse cases and are equally as damaging to the development and welfare of the child.

Emotional abuse is the continued emotional mistreatment of a child of sufficient intensity to cause severe and persistent effects on the child’s emotional development.

Instances of such emotional child abuse include:

  • Communicating to the child that they are worthless, unloved or inadequate;
  • Imposing inappropriate expectations on the child, whether this be interactions that are beyond the child’s developmental capability, over-protectiveness, putting limits an the child’s access to learning, or stopping the child from taking part in normal social activities;
  • The witnessing of the ill-treatment of another;
  • Sufficiently severe bullying, causing the child to feel afraid or in danger;
  • Exploitation and corruption of the child.

Emotional abuse is harder to spot than physical abuse; the indicators are in the child’s behaviour, rather than their physical condition. However, there are still signs that can be observed that would indicate the possibility of emotional abuse. These include:

  1. Emotional under-development;
  2. Excessive attachment to one or other parent;
  3. Indiscriminate attachment or absence of attachment;
  4. Aggressive behaviour;
  5. Appeasement directed towards others;
  6. The child being made a scapegoat within the family unit;
  7. Anxiety;
  8. Low self esteem and lack of confidence;
  9. Failure to flourish and thrive as an individual
  10. Introverted or withdrawn behaviour.

There is increasing evidence of the adverse long-term consequences for children’s development where they have been subject to sustained emotional abuse. Emotional abuse has an important impact on a developing child’s mental and physical health, behaviour and self-esteem. It can be especially damaging in infancy.

Underlying emotional abuse may be as important, if not more so, than other more visible forms of abuse in terms of its impact on the child. Domestic violence, adult mental health problems and parental substance misuse may be features in families where children are exposed to such abuse.