Child Abuse: Emotional Abuse by Parents

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Topic Overview

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The behavior of an emotionally abusive parent or caregiver does not support a child's healthy development and well-being—instead, it creates an environment of fear, hostility, or anxiety. A child is sensitive to the feeling, opinions, and actions of his or her parents. Emotionally harmful attitudes may include the following.

Showing a lack of regard for the child

This behavior often includes rejecting the child by:

  • Not showing affection.
  • Ignoring the child's presence and obvious needs.
  • Ignoring the child when he or she is in need of comfort.
  • Not calling the child by his or her name.

Saying unkind things to the child

Emotionally abusive parents say things or convey feelings that can hurt a child deeply. Common examples include:

  • Making the child feel unwanted, perhaps by stating or implying that life would be easier without the child. For example, a parent may tell a child, "I wish you were never born."
  • Ridiculing or belittling the child, such as saying, "You are stupid."
  • Threatening the child with harsh punishment or even death.
  • Continuous verbal abuse.
  • Comparing the child to siblings or peers.
  • Blaming the child for family problems.

Creating an emotionally unhealthy environment

Some emotionally abusive parents place ill-advised or impossibly difficult expectations on their children, such as:

  • Encouraging the child to commit immoral or illegal acts.
  • Pressuring the child to grow up too fast.
  • Expecting the child to perform beyond his or her capability or maturity.
  • Isolating the child from family and friends.

Related Information


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD - Pediatrics

Current as ofApril 24, 2015

Current as of: April 24, 2015