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Emotional Child Abuse Symptoms

By Alexis Aiger ; Updated June 13, 2017

According to Childhelp, every year over 3 million reports of child abuse are made in the United States. Victims of child abuse have an increased likelihood of criminal behavior, substance abuse and mental illness later in life. Though child abuse often evokes thoughts and images of physical abuse, physical abuse makes up less than 11 percent of all child abuse cases according to Childhelp. Though harder to identify than the bruises and broken bones children receive from physical abuse, children may also suffer from emotional abuse. Emotional abuse includes the constant belittling of a child, name calling and threatening as well as a lack of physical affection and exposing a child to the abuse of others. Recognizing the signs of emotional abuse can help save the life of a child in need.


A child subjected to emotional abuse may feel fearful or anxious about doing something wrong, says She may become withdrawn, trying to shield herself from the possibility of doing something wrong and incurring further abuse. Sudden withdrawal from friends and activities may also occur. Withdrawal, fearfulness and anxiousness are not always signs of abuse, but if you are concerned about a child displaying these symptoms, it is better to prompt further investigation than to ignore the possibility of abuse.

Behavior Change

Sudden changes in behavior or academic performance may also indicate emotional abuse. According to, children suffering from emotional abuse may also display extreme behaviors, such as becoming extremely demanding or compliant or extremely passive or aggressive. Additionally, a child suffering from emotional abuse may begin to act out and rebel. Changes in behavior and extreme moods may indicate a problem other than abuse. However, exploring all possibilities, including abuse, will prove beneficial to the child.

Lack of Attachment

Normal parenting and an overall happy family life results in attachment, both from the caregiver to the child and from the child to the caregiver. A lack of this normal attachment may indicate emotional or other abuse, says Signs of a lack of attachment vary from child to child and you must use your best judgment to determine if a lack of attachment is present in a child-to-caregiver relationship. Trust your instincts and if you think something is not quite right, contact the proper authorities. Again, it is better to prompt further investigation than to ignore the possibility of abuse.

Psychological or Emotional Disorders

A child may suffer from psychological or emotional disorders for a variety of reasons. However, it is possible that the cause of his disorder is abuse. The New York Time's Health Guide explains that symptoms of emotional abuse may manifest as low self-esteem, eating disorders, depression, anxiety or sleep disorders. Other signs may include inappropriately adult or infantile behavior, according to For this reason, it is essential that therapists and other professionals treating children for disorders explore the possibility of abuse. If you suspect a child is suffering from a disorder caused by abuse, contact your local child welfare department.

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