Emotional Abuse of Children

Childrens Act 2004 defines emotional abuse as:

Emotional abuse is the persistent maltreatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child’s emotional development. It may involve conveying to children that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate, or valued only insofar as they meet the needs of another person. It may feature age or developmentally inappropriate expectations being imposed on children. These may include interactions that are beyond the child’s developmental capacity, 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, causing children frequently to feel frightened or in danger, or the exploitation or corruption of children. Some levels of emotional abuse is involved in all types of mistreatment of a child, though it may occur alone.


It is promising that there is now much more focus on emotional abuse and that the authorities are also more aware, with laws in place and being implemented regularly.  As a counsellor, it is good to know that many will now be able to understand why they have felt so unhappy and struggled through life, because until now, many victims of childhood emotional abuse, may be unaware that they were actually being abused.  This is a great shift in creating a better future, if more positive parenting takes place today, could it possibly save society billions in health care in the future?  Positive parenting could help huge savings in addiction services, mental health services and there will be a generally happier society in the future I believe; if positive parenting is encouraged more on a large scale.  Most people that come for help, have low self esteem and often, that may have started in their early years, due to negative influences.

There are however, still some grey areas around defining what exactly is emotional abuse.  Maybe there is scope to have terms such as emotional dysfunction?  Maybe we need to consider areas that could pose a risk, as well as the clear definitions when tackling childhood emotional abuse.

Situations like family scapegoating may benefit from being targeted, stopping children who are victims of scapegoating developing negative core beliefs around being ”less than” ”not as good as” ”bad”.  Carrying such painful beliefs through life can weigh so heavy on a little child.  Children are also at risk of developing negative core beliefs from peer bullying, poor child care provisions or extended family members.

Children have developing and delicate minds.  They can not think of concepts and rationalise, as their minds are not as evolved as an adults.  If they are spoken to badly, they can soak that up as a belief of ”I am bad”.  If they are mistreated, they often can not see that it is not them who is the problem, it is the person who treats others badly that has the issues.  Children can internalise any negativity and carry that as guilt, shame or feeling unworthy or unlovable.  That can be a dangerous cocktail of core beliefs to manage through life.

Our children are like delicate little flowers, easily damaged, we need to nurture them well, otherwise they can really struggle throughout life.  Simple things like the way we speak to them, our manner, can either damage them or help them flourish.  We need to make sure others are treating our children well and with love, respect and care.  We can not make others Love our children, but we have a right to make sure our children are treated lovingly, accepting anything less is a massive failure in my opinion.

Child abuse is more than bruises or broken bones. While physical abuse is shocking due to the scars it leaves, not all child abuse is as obvious. Ignoring children’s needs, putting them in unsupervised, dangerous situations, or making a child feel worthless or stupid are also child abuse. Regardless of the type of child abuse, the result is serious emotional harm.  http://www.helpguide.org/articles/abuse/child-abuse-and-neglect.htm

Parenting is a very challenging and important role, which can become even more challenging and important with the fact that there are now so many step parents.  Parent figures are the most significant role models in a child’s life and possibly have the biggest influence on a child more often and sometimes it may be grandparents, or other significant carers.  Rules and boundaries are healthy and positive, but how we deliver them and the way we speak to our children is vital, especially when delivering boundaries and rules.  If someone speaks to you respectfully, you respect that person, if someone speaks to your disrespectfully, how easy is it to respect that person?  If we are too strict and unkind with the delivery of rules, we may get short-term control of that situation, but long-term the relationship could be damaged as well as the child growing up with low self-esteem, or supressed anger and so on.

It is just as easy to talk to a child and explain why a rule needs to be implemented, rather than shout at the child with orders and commands.  We all see those stressed parents who are screaming at kids in public, how effective is the screaming?  Is the child acting up due to inner turmoil due to all the screaming?

I learnt the hard way about parenting, having a huge age gap between my children, I could see mistakes I had made first time around and although the opportunity to parent better is one I have now, it will always be a bitter-sweet experience, due to mistakes in my past.  If you are reading this and identify with how you may be parenting badly, then take the focus away from your parenting and on to yourself, maybe you need a little support and some help for things to improve in the future?

For single parents, parenting can be very difficult emotionally, and that may filter down in how some parent.  It is not about pointing the finger and criticising others, it is about saying honestly that things could be done better, are you hurting, do you need some support, lets look at this and help.  Anyone who behaves badly in some way, is actually vulnerable themselves and possibly in need of help and support.

If we put out anger and frustration as ingredients, will it create situations as good as what love, kindness and respect will create?  Anyone who can mistreat a child, or who stands by and allows children to be mistreated, is one of the main problems in this society I feel.  How we treat children matters, how we allow children to be treated matters, we all need to be looking out for our children and helping create a better future.  If we are not in our potential behaving at our best, it is our responsibility to do something about that, and usually all people need is a little help.


Angela Neild Manchester Counselling

Angela Neild Manchester Counselling


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