Emotional Abuse, Child Neglect

Emotional abuse can include:

Rejecting or ignoring: telling a child he or she is unwanted or unloved, showing little interest in child, not initiating or returning affection, not listening to the child, not validating the child’s feelings, breaking promises, cutting child off in conversation
Shaming or humiliating: calling a child names, criticizing, belittling, demeaning, berating, mocking, using language or taking action that takes aim at child’s feelings of self-worth
Terrorizing: accusing, blaming, insulting, punishing with or threatening abandonment, harm or death, setting a child up for failure, manipulating, taking advantage of a child’s weakness or reliance on adults, slandering, screaming, yelling
Isolating: keeping child from peers and positive activities, confining child to small area, forbidding play or other stimulating experiences
Corrupting: engaging child in criminal acts, telling lies to justify actions or ideas, encouraging misbehavior

Signs of emotional abuse in parent or caregiver:

Routinely ignores, criticizes, yells at or blames child
Plays favorites with one sibling over another
Poor anger management or emotional self-regulation
Stormy relationships with other adults, disrespect for authority
History of violence or abuse
Untreated mental illness, alcoholism or substance abuse

Signs of emotional abuse in a child:


Delays in development
Wetting bed, pants
Speech disorders
Health problems like ulcers, skin disorders
Obesity and weight fluctuation


Habits like sucking, biting, rocking
Learning disabilities and developmental delays
Overly compliant or defensive
Extreme emotions, aggression, withdrawal
Anxieties, phobias, sleep disorders
Destructive or anti-social behaviors (violence, cruelty, vandalism, stealing, cheating, lying)
Behavior that is inappropriate for age (too adult, too infantile)
Suicidal thoughts and behaviors


Physical Neglect

Children need enough care to be healthy and enough supervision to be safe. Adults that care for children must provide clothing, food and drink. A child also needs safe, healthy shelter, and adequate supervision.

Examples of physical neglect:

Deserting a child or refusing to take custody of a child who is under your care
Repeatedly leaving a child in another’s custody for days or weeks at a time
Failing to provide enough healthy food and drink
Failing to provide clothes that are appropriate to the weather
Failing to ensure adequate personal hygiene
Not supervising a child appropriately
Leaving the child with an inappropriate caregiver
Exposing a child to unsafe/unsanitary environments or situations

Emotional Neglect

Children require enough affection and attention to feel loved and supported. If a child shows signs of psychological illness, it must be treated.

Examples of emotional neglect:

Ignoring a child’s need for attention, affection and emotional support
Exposing a child to extreme or frequent violence, especially domestic violence
Permitting a child to use drugs, use alcohol, or engage in crime
Keeping a child isolated from friends and loved ones

Medical Neglect

Some states do not prosecute parents who withhold certain types of medical care for religious reasons, but they may get a court order to protect the child’s life.
Parents and caregivers must provide children with appropriate treatment for injuries and illness. They must also provide basic preventive care to make sure their child stays safe and healthy.

Examples of medical neglect:

Not taking child to hospital or appropriate medical professional for serious illness or injury
Keeping a child from getting needed treatment
Not providing preventative medical and dental care
Failing to follow medical recommendations for a child

Educational Neglect

Parents and schools share responsibility for making sure children have access to opportunities for academic success.

Examples of educational neglect:

Allowing a child to miss too much school
Not enrolling a child in school (or not providing comparable home-based education)
Keeping a child from needed special education services

Signs of Child Neglect

There is no “smoking gun” for most child neglect. While even one instance of neglect can cause lifelong harm to a child, neglect often requires a pattern of behavior over a period of time.

Signs in Caregiver

There is no “typical neglectful parent.” Nevertheless, certain indicators may suggest a parent or caregiver needs help to nurture and protect the child or children in their care:

Displays indifference or lack of care toward the child
Depression, apathy, drug/alcohol abuse and other mental health issues
Denies problems with child or blames the child for problems
Views child negatively
Relies on child for own care and well-being

Signs in Child

While a single indicator may not be cause for alarm, children who are neglected often show that they need help:

Clothing that is the wrong size, in disrepair, dirty, or not right for the weather
Often hungry, stockpiles food, seeks food, may even show signs of malnutrition (like distended belly, protruding bones)
Very low body weight, height for age
Often tired, sleepy, listless
Hygiene problems, body odor
Talks about caring for younger siblings, not having a caregiver at home
Untreated medical and dental problems, incomplete immunizations
Truancy, frequently incomplete homework, frequent changes of school