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Psychological Child Abuse?

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My 4 year old nephew lives with my parents and I, but since he was 2 he has called me mommy and looked to me as his mother figure. His mom is a drug addict and abandoned him and sees him only occasionally and was present when his father beat my sister. Lately, my whole family has been yelling at him and telling him I am not his mother and to stop calling me that and it makes him cry and get really upset. He cries and just wants me to hold him when they do this. My parents have legal guardianship, but my question is is yelling and making him this upset to where he shuts down psychologically harming him? It feels like emotional abuse. my mom is trying to control him and keeps says she is his parent when she is his grandparent. I’m worried about the psychological effects of this if you have any research articles on this topic I would appreciate it.

Psychological Child Abuse?

Answered by on -


It sounds like you deeply care for your nephew — and that he knows and understands this already at the tender age of 4. I would do two things. First try talking to your mom directly to try and get her to understand he may need this as a transition. If she won’t bend, I would recommend you engage your nephew in using the special nature of your relationship to create a new name you both agree on. Let your mom know you are going to work with him and to give you some time so that we open a window of opportunity for change. Work with him on finding a name that he is comfortable with. This helps keep the special nature of your relationship and will hopefully help him transition to calling you another term of endearment.

Wishing you patience and peace,
Dr. Dan
Proof Positive Blog @ PsychCentral

Psychological Child Abuse?

Daniel J. Tomasulo, PhD, TEP, MFA, MAPP

Dan Tomasulo Ph.D., TEP, MFA, MAPP teaches Positive Psychology in the graduate program of Counseling and Clinical Psychology at Columbia University, Teachers College and works with Martin Seligman, the Father of Positive Psychology in the Masters of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) program at the University of Pennsylvania. He is Director of the New York Certification in Positive Psychology for the Open Center in New York City and on faculty at New Jersey City University. Sharecare has honored him as one of the top 10 online influencers on the topic of depression. For more information go to: He also writes for Psych Central's Ask the Therapist column and the Proof Positive blog.

APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2018). Psychological Child Abuse?. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 21, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 May 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 May 2018
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