Identifying Child Abuse Pt. 4 – Emotional Abuse
According to experts, emotional abuse is inherent in every form of child maltreatment. This is because physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect all result in emotional damage to a child. However, emotional abuse can also occur on its own and, according to the American Humane Association, these cases are among the most difficult child abuse cases to identify.
What Constitutes Emotional Abuse?
Most experts and child healthcare professionals agree that current definitions of emotional abuse are too broad and complicated to work as an operational definition. For example, the American Human Association defines emotional abuse as a pattern of behavior which interferes with a child’s emotional, psychological, cognitive, or social development.
Further complicating matters is a lack of standards of severity, making it near impossible to track the extent of emotional child abuse.
What experts are certain of is that emotional abuse occurs in every type of family and can occur with neither the perpetrator nor the victim ever being aware the abuse has happened.
Types of Emotional Abuse
While emotional abuse is always a byproduct of physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect, emotional abuse can also occur independently. Examples of stand-alone emotional abuse include:
- Ignoring a child’s emotional or psychological needs
- Not acknowledging a child by name
- Constant rejection of a child
- Consistent ridicule of a child
- Preventing a child from interacting with family or peers
- Encouraging a child to partake in inappropriate, antisocial, or illicit behaviors
- Verbal assaults including belittling and shaming
How to Identify Emotional Child Abuse
Common signs that a child may be a victim of emotional abuse include:
- Problems at school
- Eating disorders
- Trouble sleeping
Further, boys and girls react differently to emotional abuse.
Common symptoms for boys may include:
- Compulsive lying or cheating
- Impulsive behavior
Girls may display other common signs including:
- Seeking approval
- Becoming frustrated easily
- Clinging to adults
- Increased dependency
- Somatic complaints
It is important to note that while certain symptoms may appear more often in one gender than another, these symptoms are not limited to that gender. For example, some boys may become more dependant following emotional abuse and some girls may resort to bullying.