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Emotional abuse

The persistent emotional maltreatment of a child such as to cause severe and adverse effects on the child’s emotional development. It may involve conveying to a child that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate, or valued only insofar as they meet the needs of another person.

It may include not giving the child opportunities to express their views, deliberately silencing them or ‘making fun’ of what they say or how they communicate. It may feature age or developmentally inappropriate expectations being imposed on children. These may include interactions that are beyond a child’s developmental capability as well as overprotection and limitation of exploration and learning, or preventing the child participating in normal social interaction.

It may involve seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another. It may involve serious bullying (including cyberbullying), causing children frequently to feel frightened or in danger, or the exploitation or corruption of children. Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of maltreatment of a child, although it may occur alone.

Emotional abuse may be difficult to recognise, as the signs are usually behavioural rather than physical. The manifestations of emotional abuse might also indicate the presence of other kinds of abuse.

The indicators of emotional abuse are often also associated with other forms of abuse.
The following may be indicators of emotional abuse:

  • Developmental delay
  • Abnormal attachment between a child and parent/carer e.g. anxious, indiscriminate or not attachment
  • Indiscriminate attachment or failure to attach
  • Aggressive behaviour towards others
  • Scape-goated within the family
  • Frozen watchfulness, particularly in pre-school children
  • Low self-esteem and lack of confidence
  • Withdrawn or seen as a “loner” – difficulty relating to others

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