Types of Emotional Abuse of Children

Parents, teachers, and caregivers often want to prevent and stop child abuse but feel unqualified to identify or report it.  Our affordable resource, Helping Children Affected by Abuse is designed for the exact purpose of making teachers and caregivers feel more confident in their ability to identify and report child abuse as well as understanding their responsibility to do so.  In one chapter, we focus on helping to identify types of emotional abuse and risk indicators for emotional abuse.

Types of Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is defined in our book as: “a pattern of caregiving behavior that impairs a child’s emotional development or sense of self-worth.”  This can include hostile behavior toward the child as well as neglectful treatment and may be harder to identify than physical violence, since the damage done is psychological and thus invisible.  As some caregivers and mandated reporters have trouble distinguishing what qualifies as reportable abusive behavior, it is important to understand that there are many categories of emotional abuse, all of which require attention.  Some forms of Emotional Abuse are listed below.

  • Ignoring

Some caregivers neglect their child by refusing to acknowledge them.  If a child’s needs or existence is ignored, this can have serious psychological effects on the child, as well as tangible detriments.  Often, ignoring behaviors result in the child’s basic needs, such as those for food or hygiene, being neglected.

  • Rejecting

More common in cases of unwanted pregnancies or in times of marital problems, Rejection occurs when a parent or caregiver refuses to show proper affection to the child, or to properly acknowledge the child’s accomplishments.  Children in these situations are often belittled, called names, and told they are of little or no worth.

  • Isolating

Isolating occurs when caregivers prevent children from properly socializing or having normal contact with other children or adults.  These caregivers may be afraid of what the child will be exposed to, or of imagined dangers of the outside world, but the behavior is still abusive even if the intention is to protect.  This behavior results in poor emotional and social development for the child.  Isolating can also be a sign of sexual abuse occurring within the family, as the act of isolating can prevent a child from coming forward about sexual abuse.

  • Terrorizing

Terrorizing involves intentionally frightening a child into submission.  Threats of physical violence or other frightening punishments or consequences are used to make the child behave.  This can include the threat of public humiliation.

  • Ritualistic Abuse

This is a form of abuse where children are systematically forced to partake in supernatural or religious activities which involve some sort of abuse of the child, often sexual or physical abuse.

  • Corrupting

Corrupting is an abusive behavior which includes encouraging or rewarding children for deviant behaviors, such as sexual behavior, violence, or drug use.  This may include allowing other adults to engage in sexual behavior with the child or allowing the child to sell or deliver drugs.  Ignoring deviant behavior can also be considered a form of corruption.

  • Verbal Assault

A more well-known form of emotional abuse, Verbal Assault includes insults, put-downs, threats, and name-calling.  Children who endure verbal abuse are twice as likely to suffer a mood or anxiety disorder later in life.

  • Overpressuring

Overpressuring occurs when a caregiver has excessive expectations of a child.  Pressure to overachieve in cognitive or physical skills can actually have extremely detrimental effects on a child’s cognitive and emotional development.

  • Overexposure to Violence

This can include violence within or without the family.  Exposure to community or domestic violence can result in PTSD-like symptoms, including emotional numbing, depression, and violent behaviors.

Identifying and properly reporting these kinds of emotional abuse can save children from potentially dangerous situations and significantly improve their cognitive and emotional development.  For more information on serving children affected by Child Abuse, see Helping Children Affected by Child Abuse.


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