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Child Abuse: Emotional Abuse by Parents - Topic Overview

The behavior of an emotionally abusive parent or caregiver does not support a child's healthy development and well-being—instead, it creates an environment of fear, hostility, or anxiety. A child is sensitive to the feeling, opinions, and actions of his or her parents. Emotionally harmful attitudes may include the following.

Showing a lack of regard for the child

This behavior often includes rejecting the child by:

  • Not showing affection.
  • Ignoring the child's presence and obvious needs.
  • Ignoring the child when he or she is in need of comfort.
  • Not calling the child by his or her name.

Saying unkind things to the child

Emotionally abusive parents say things or convey feelings that can hurt a child deeply. Common examples include:

  • Making the child feel unwanted, perhaps by stating or implying that life would be easier without the child. For example, a parent may tell a child, "I wish you were never born."
  • Ridiculing or belittling the child, such as saying, "You are stupid."
  • Threatening the child with harsh punishment or even death.
  • Continuous verbal abuse.
  • Comparing the child to siblings or peers.
  • Blaming the child for family problems.

Creating an emotionally unhealthy environment

Some emotionally abusive parents place ill-advised or impossibly difficult expectations on their children, such as:

  • Encouraging the child to commit immoral or illegal acts.
  • Pressuring the child to grow up too fast.
  • Expecting the child to perform beyond his or her capability or maturity.
  • Isolating the child from family and friends.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: November 14, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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