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Emotional child abuse

Woman sitting on couch with hand on her face

Emotional abuse, also known as psychological abuse, is the most common type of child abuse.

Emotional abuse is when an adult deliberately and repeatedly causes a child emotional distress.

Emotional abuse can include:

  • forcing a child to be humiliated or to perform a degrading act
  • scaring or causing a child to be fearful
  • rejecting or telling a child they are worthless, unwanted or unloved
  • undermining, blaming, scapegoating
  • constant criticism or unrealistic expectations
  • name calling, threats, making fun of the child
  • isolating a child from opportunities to learn, interactions with others
  • withholding attention, ignoring or never showing affection
  • exposure to distressing events including family and domestic violence, other types of violence and drug use
  • bullying.

Often if a child is being emotionally abused they may also be suffering physical or sexual abuse or neglect.

Signs of emotional child abuse

Signs that a child is being emotionally abused include:

  • lack of apparent connection with parents
  • overly affectionate or clingy with strangers
  • anxious or extra vigilant disposition
  • emotional outbursts
  • problems interacting with other children appropriately
  • other symptoms of child abuse.

The impacts of emotional abuse can be long-term and cause serious harm to a child’s health, wellbeing and development.

Getting help

Worried about yourself, a friend or another family member? Get help here.

Find out more

For more information on child abuse, including the information on reporting child abuse, please refer to the DHHS website.