How to recognize child emotional abuse and how you can help

Child Emotional Abuse

There are approximately 74 million children in the United States, alone. 

Unfortunately, a significant number of these children come from broken, abusive homes. Most of us know the signs of physical abuse, such as bruising or open wounds. But mental scars are harder to identify. And even when we do identify these signs, it can then leave us confused about what we can do to stop it. 

What Is Emotional Abuse?

Emotional abuse is also known as psychological or mental abuse. This kind of abuse occurs when the child is subjected to consistent hostility, bullying, name-calling, threats and other forms of verbal abuse. Additionally, performing violent or inappropriate acts in front of a child can also warrant as emotional abuse. 

Essentially, words or actions that have a detrimental effect on a child’s psyche, will, by and large, be considered emotional abuse. Some examples could include threatening a child, giving unwarranted or inappropriate scolding or keeping them socially isolated. 

Recognizing the Signs of Abuse in a Child

Unlike physical abuse, emotional abuse does not leave tangible scars for us to see. Instead, to spot the signs we have to rely on observation and analysis of a child’s behavior. Here are a few warning signs that might indicate emotional abuse in a child.

Chronic Anxiety

If you observe a child who’s plagued with constant worry, it might be a sign of something more sinister. An anxious child is likely to be very fidgety, restless and agitated.

Avoidant Behavior

Similarly, as a result of such anxiety, the child might also become more avoidant. If they seem reluctant to participate in social activities or begin to isolate themselves from situations, it’s time to investigate.

Intense Fear

It is natural for children to feel somewhat fearful in certain situations. However, being disproportionately scared of every little movement, loud noise, or gesture is not normal. 

Displaying intense fear of authority is also a red flag. Observe a child’s behavior after they make a silly mistake.

Are they terrified of the consequences? Do they apologize excessively and fearfully? 

Self-Doubt or Low Self-Esteem

If a child is being constantly berated and criticized for being themselves, it very likely that they internalize those negative voices. If a child consistently voices self-doubt or worthlessness, it is usually a good indicator of what they’re being told by external voices.

Their insecurities may also push them to seek excessive admiration and validation from adults or peers. 

Disruptive Behavior

Children from abusive homes often take to drugs, alcohol, disruptive or unlawful activities. This could manifest in stealing, lying, making a scene and other bad behavior.

What You Can Do to Help

If you suspect that your child or someone else’s child is being subjected to emotional abuse, it’s time to step up.

Call the Indiana Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-800-5556 to report any claims. It’s open 24/7 and you have the option of staying completely anonymous.

Skip to content