Child Abuse Series: Why Is Emotional Abuse Difficult To Identify?

When a child is physically abused, there is visual evidence of the injury.  Various degrees of bruising and broken bones are just a few of the numerous injuries that can be attributed to child abuse. However, child abuse does not always cause physical injury. Some abuse is emotional, and psychological, social, emotional, and cognitive injuries are very difficult to identify.


So, what is emotional abuse. The accepted definition in most circles is defined as an ongoing pattern of behavior on the part of parents and/or caregivers that is detrimental to a child's welfare, development, and psychological well-being.


The old saying, "Sticks and stones may hurt my bones, but words will never hurt me," is far from true. Sure kids often resort to name calling when they are upset, and usually as long as it is not a case of bullying, the incident is quickly forgotten. But when a child is constantly belittled, rejected, or even terrorized, the words do hurt, and the hurt is far deeper than a bruise.


We have all heard of the cases that hit the news where kids have been imprisoned in a room or a closet. There may be no physical harm, but the emotional trauma to the child is lifelong and tragic. But, how you may ask, does the use of words constitute abuse?


Put the thought of a child aside for a minute. Think about a new puppy. If that puppy is adopted by a caregiver who yells at, threatens it, constantly calls it "bad dog", and does not pet it, hold it, or even smile at it, can you expect that dog to be loving with its new master or anyone else who comes near it? No. Now think of a child in the same situation. The child suffers  constant humiliation, belittling, and bullying. He/she is told daily that he/she is worthless, no good, or bad. Or, what if he/she is threatened with violence, even though it may never be carried out, or is forced to watch one of his/her siblings being beaten. There may be no visible scars that readily tell of the abuse, but you can bet there are hidden ones and they are displayed through behavior.

A child who is emotionally abused may appear withdrawn, have low self-esteem, or act out their pain through violence or aggression.  He/she may develop slowly and are often way behind the skill level of other kids their age. While it is the professionals--doctors, nurses, counselors, teachers, and police officers who will see the signs before any of us do, it is important that we treat children with respect. That means no name calling, accepting them for who they are, encouraging them to grow and develop, provide positive attention, hugs, smiles, and constant reassurance. So, have you hugged your child today?

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