Emotional child abuse occurs when a child is treated badly enough to hinder his or her emotional health and development, perhaps permanently. The source of emotional child abuse may be the child's parents or teachers, or anyone else who plays an important role in the child's life, such as relatives. The abuse may also take several forms, from excessive punishment and criticism to neglect.
One form of emotional child abuse is when the child is dominated or controlled by the abuser. In this situation, the child is forced to obey the abuser, even if doing so will harm the child in some way. Emotional abuse such as this often occurs alongside physical abuse, as a punishment or reinforcement of the abuser's control over the child.
Excessively criticizing and belittling a child is also a form of emotional child abuse, which can make the child feel worthless. Often, this abuse occurs in response to healthy things that should normally be encouraged, such as interacting and playing with friends or being happy. This is especially damaging because it sometimes prevents the child from reaching out to others for acceptance and friendship. The child may also suffer from neglect, being ignored by the parents or other important adult figures. This may extend past emotional neglect, such as withholding affection or attention, and into physical neglect, such as a failure to provide food, clothing, shelter, or other necessities.
It is extremely important to recognize the signs and symptoms of a child who is being emotionally abused. If the situation is not dealt with appropriately and quickly, an emotionally abused child may be more likely to withdraw and become depressed, develop low self-esteem and anxiety, and have difficulty forming future relationships. In many cases of emotional abuse, the victim will not reach out for help, out of a feeling of worthlessness, helplessness, or fear.
Sometimes the parents will be to blame for the abuse, which leaves it up to the child's teachers and other relatives to help. Other times, the parents may not realize the child is being abused by someone until symptoms such as depression and social withdrawal become apparent. Additionally, the parents may be the primary abusers but not realize that they are actually causing harm to the child. This can happen especially when the parents lead very stressful lives and do not realize that they may be taking out this stress on their child, either through anger, bitterness, and impatience or through neglect because they themselves are physically and emotionally drained.