Emotional child abuse

Critical Information

What is emotional abuse?

Emotional child abuse occurs when a child is repeatedly rejected, isolated or frightened by threats, or by witnessing family violence.

It also includes hostility, derogatory name-calling and put-downs, and persistent coldness from a person, to the extent that the child suffers, or is likely to suffer, emotional or psychological harm to their physical or developmental health. Emotional abuse may occur with or without other forms of abuse.

What are the physical indicators of emotional child abuse?

PHYSICAL indicators of emotional abuse include (but are not limited to):

  • speech disorders such as language delay, stuttering or selectively being mute (only speaking with certain people or in certain situations)
  • delays in emotional, mental or physical development

What are the behavioural indicators of emotional child abuse?

BEHAVIOURAL indicators of emotional abuse include (but are not limited to):

  • overly compliant, passive and undemanding behaviour
  • extremely demanding, aggressive and attention-seeking behaviour or anti-social and destructive behaviour
  • low tolerance or frustration
  • poor self-image and low self-esteem
  • unexplained mood swings, depression, self-harm or suicidal thoughts
  • behaviours that are not age-appropriate, e.g. overly adult, or overly infantile
  • fear of failure, overly high standards, and excessive neatness
  • poor social and interpersonal skills
  • violent drawings or writing
  • lack of positive social contact with other children