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What is emotional abuse in children?

Emotional abuse is defined as a pattern of behavior that hinders children's development or self-worth. This might take the form of constant criticism or threats, or withholding love and support.
Emotional abuse in children is when a parent or caregiver harms a child’s mental and social development, or causes severe emotional harm. While a single incident may be abuse, most often emotional abuse is a pattern of behavior that causes damage over time. Emotional abuse can include:
  • rejecting or ignoring: telling a child he or she is unwanted or unloved, showing little interest in child, not initiating or returning affection, not listening to the child, not validating the child’s feelings, breaking promises, cutting child off in conversation
  • shaming or humiliating: calling a child names, criticizing, belittling, demeaning, berating, mocking, using language or taking action that takes aim at child’s feelings of self-worth
  • terrorizing: accusing, blaming, insulting, punishing with or threatening abandonment, harm or death, setting a child up for failure, manipulating, taking advantage of a child’s weakness or reliance on adults, slandering, screaming, yelling
  • isolating: keeping child from peers and positive activities, confining child to small area, forbidding play or other stimulating experiences
  • corrupting: engaging child in criminal acts, telling lies to justify actions or ideas, encouraging misbehavior

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.