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​Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse causes unhappiness and damage to the child’s developing personality, which is dependent on the quality of the attachment between the parent and child. Abuse and neglect at an early age is likely to result in a problematic attachment between parent and infant. Later abuse can disrupt a previously good emotional bond and some poor attachments can be repaired with the right professional help. Occasionally problems arising from an attachment disorder a​re irreversible.

Emotional abuse often accompanies other forms of violence and neglect. It may be missed if the child appears well nourished and well cared for.

The main clues are found in:

    • the emotional state and behaviour of the child. For example, they may be clingy and become distressed when a parent is not present or, alternatively, th​ey may be agitated, non-compliant and unable to concentrate, ​or withdrawn, watchful and anxious. Older children may self-harm, abuse drugs and alcohol, exhibit delinquent behaviour, run away from home and often have educational problems.

    • their interaction with parents. For example, the parent may ignore the child or use abusive or inappropriate language; they may threaten the child or have unrealistic expectations of the child’s abilities to cope with dental treatment. Domestic abuse, mental and general health issues will have an impact on the emotional development of the child.

Markers of emotional abuse

    • Poor growth
    • Developmental delay
    • Educational failure
    • Low self esteem
    • Social immaturity
    • Lack of social responsiveness
    • Excessively good behaviour (child anxious to please parent)
    • Aggression
    • Attachment disorders (both anxious and avoidant)
    • Lack of appropriate parental response
    • Indiscriminate friendliness
    • Challenging behaviour
    • Attention difficulties