“I wish you’d never been born.”
“You can’t do anything right, can you?”
“Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.”
Physical abuse of children leaves marks — bruises, burns or scars. Verbal abuse can be overheard and reported.
Emotional abuse is much harder to detect and expose — yet it can do just as much damage as other forms of child abuse, says Jo-Ell Guzman, McLane Children’s Hospital Scott & White Child Abuse Outreach Coordinator.
“Emotional abuse is where a child doesn’t receive the love and affection, the nurturing, that he or she should from his or her family or caregivers,” explains Ms. Guzman.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, emotional abuse includes any pattern of behavior that impairs the emotional development or self-worth of a child, including:
- Constant criticism
- Withholding love, support or guidance
Abusive parents also may be domineering, rarely permitting the child a choice, Ms. Guzman says. They also may make excessive performance demands, expecting perfection from their children.
Hounding, insulting, mocking and ridiculing one’s children are other forms of emotional abuse.
Emotional Effects of Emotional Abuse
“A lot of times, emotional abuse will present as lasting low self-esteem or criminal behavior.”
“In a healthy home, there’s going to be a balance of love, a balance of discipline, a balance of encouragement, a balance of helping the child learn to be responsible and make decisions,” Ms. Guzman explains. “But in homes where that balance doesn’t exist, children don’t know what to do or how to act. They won’t know whether they should laugh or cry in certain situations. Emotions are going to be inappropriate because they won’t know how to express their emotions when they’re always told to sit down and shut up and don’t cry.”
“When there really is something for them to cry about,” Ms. Guzman says, “they don’t, because they don’t know how.”
Emotional abuse, she says, often results in plummeting self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness.
Behavioral Effects of Emotional Abuse
“Emotionally abused children often act out,” Ms. Guzman says. For example, “some young girls will be overly suggestive in their dress, and there is a considerably higher rate of teen pregnancy among girls from emotionally abusive homes.”
The effects of emotional abuse are broad. Studies show that emotionally abused teenagers are 25 percent more likely to experience:
- Low academic achievement
- Dropping out of school
- Criminal and violent behavior
- Suicide attempts
Long-Term Effects of Emotional Abuse
“Emotional abuse,” Ms. Guzman says, “often may not manifest itself until later on when the child is much older. A lot of times, emotional abuse will present as lasting low self-esteem or criminal behavior.”
According to Prevent Child Abuse America, emotional abuse can result in a lifelong pattern of:
- Inappropriate or troubled relationships
- Lack of empathy
Causes of Emotional Abuse
“A lot of times parents emotionally abuse their kids because they experienced this in their childhoods. They repeat the cycle of abuse. Maybe when they were growing up, they swore they would never do that, but perhaps they never received assistance on how to deal with the effects of the abuse, so they never learned how to parent effectively,” suggests Ms. Guzman.
Other contributing factors include homes where:
- There is domestic violence.
- Parents are under the age of 25.
- There is financial stress.
- Drugs and alcohol are abused.
“I’m convinced nobody actually wants to abuse their child. They just don’t know what’s appropriate or how to stop. They need education and they need to know what’s out there to help them,” says Ms. Guzman.
“We need to increase awareness — awareness of resources and awareness that children are precious and priceless,” Ms. Guzman says.
For example, Walk to Stop Child Abuse Central Texas, an awareness fundraising 5K walk, is set for October 13 at Pepper Creek Trail on West Highway 2305 in Temple.
“This is a chance to alert all people in the local area of the importance of commitment to child abuse prevention,” Ms. Guzman says.
The proceeds from Walk to Stop Child Abuse Central Texas are split between Prevent Child Abuse Texas and McLane’s Children’s Hospital to fund child abuse prevention education within our community.
“Join us for the walk as we work to prevent emotional abuse through education and awareness,” said Ms. Guzman. “We need to do everything we can to ensure our children are going to be responsible, productive adults.”
*This blog has been updated for accuracy since it was originally posted.