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Emotional Abuse in Children

Much of the work on emotional abuse has been written about adult relationships, yet children, pre-teens and teens have their own unique needs in these very important formative years. There are certain experiences, such as secure attachment, that need to be met in order for children to grow and thrive. Unfortunately, they do not always have that safe place in their own home.

In order to keep children from incurring unnecessary trauma and allow them to develop into healthy adults, it’s essential to look at and be aware of areas that may cause emotional abuse. This is an awareness exercise for any parent, teacher or care-giver that interacts with children of all ages. As many developmental psychologists believe, a person’s identity is formed by age 10, so it’s an important topic to explore.

What kinds of things qualify as emotional abuse in children, pre-teens and teens?  I’m going to use the term “child” below for simplification but it in this context it applies to the full range of what classifies as a minor under your care.  

  • Being too busy to listen to a child when she (or he) needs to process emotions, problems, or ideas.
  • Minimizing an offense that happened to the child.
  • Over-hyping an offense that happened to the child so that he feels he was completely powerless to stop it.
  • Being co-dependent or independent to or from the child, instead of being inter-dependent.
  • Not respecting the views of a child when she disagrees with you.
  • Not asking questions as to why a child is saying something but assuming through your own filter what he means.
  • Punishing a child for an accident.
  • Shaming a child for something she didn’t intend.
  • Using guilt or lying to a child about what might happen to him if he participates in something you don’t approve.
  • Forcing a child to smile, shake hands, or hug someone she doesn’t know.
  • Labeling a child an emotion instead of saying he is experiencing the emotion.  For example, saying “you’re shy” or “you’re lazy” instead of you are acting shy or acting lazy…  as those are behaviors not identity markers.
  • Not protecting a child from possible danger, being neglectful, and ignoring his or her needs.
  • Living your dreams and wishes through the child instead of allowing him to follow his own giftedness.
  • Pressuring a child to perform as an adult when she isn’t developmentally equipped to handle a situation.
  • Rules that break the spirit of a child, out of the fear of a parent, instead of rules that actually protect the child from danger.
  • Narcissistic fulfillment or image issues being projected onto a child.
  • Gossiping about a child to others, reading his or her emails or journals, not respecting the child’s privacy.
  • Withholding rewards from children who have genuinely done something that added value to you or your family.
  • Expecting children to do hard labor for free and without incentives.
  • Over scheduling a child and not giving her enough free time to rest.
  • Being enmeshed with the child where you are seeing them as an extension of yourself instead of an independent person
  • Micromanaging or “helicopter parenting” your child.

Being aware of these and other situations where safe communications needs to be practiced will help grow healthy children who will require less therapy when they are adults! Parent and teach consciously and you will be successful.

Emotional Abuse in Children

Maria Bogdanos

Maria Bogdanos is an emotional health coach. Her work focuses on the core of what a client is feeling, which always plays a role in their whole person health. Co-active coaching works through a client’s agenda to explore where there are hindrances and to reframe possibilities, which ultimately lead to a domino effect of empowerment in other areas. Contact her at

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APA Reference
Bogdanos, M. (2018). Emotional Abuse in Children. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 8 Dec 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.