Scars and bruises can be seen, but the wounds of emotional abuse can be long-lasting. Although an emotionally abused child might not end up in the hospital with a broken bone or a concussion, he’ll certainly feel the effects.
Emotional abuse can be defined as ‘a repeated pattern of caregiver behavior or extreme incident(s) that convey to children that they are flawed, unloved, unwanted, endangered, or of value only in meeting another’s needs’. From: Child Abuse and Neglect, 2019
Abuse in all its forms is a daily reality for many Nigerian children and only a fraction ever receive help. Six out of every 10 children experience some form of violence – one in four girls and 10 per cent of boys have been victims of sexual violence. Of the children who reported violence, fewer than five out of 100 received any form of support. The drivers of violence against children (VAC) are rooted in social norms, including around the use of violent discipline, violence against women and community beliefs about witchcraft, all of which increase children’s vulnerability.
Violence against children occurs in homes, families, schools, communities and other places where children should feel safe. See how UNICEF is supporting the Government of Nigeria to protect children.
How to Identify a Child Who Is Being Emotionally Abused
Unlike physical and Sexual abuse; emotional abuse may be difficult to identify because it often takes place in the confines of a child’s home. A child’s behavior can indicate if there’s a problem at home. Inappropriate behavior that is either very immature or a little bit too mature for the child’s age can indicate abuse, as well as a dramatic behavioral change. For example, a child who was formerly slightly aloof or didn’t seek attention might all of a sudden become clingy to non-abusive adults or compulsively seek affection from them.
Here are some potential warning signs of emotional abuse:
1. Desperately seeks affection from other adults
2. A decline in school performance
3. Developmental regression (like bedwetting or soiling after previously mastering bladder and bowel control)
4. Frequent complaints of headaches, stomachaches, or other somatic issues with no known cause
5. Loss of interest in social activities or other interests
6. Delayed emotional development
8. Attempts to avoid certain situations, such as going to an activity or another person’s house
9. Desire to hurt himself or other people on purpose
9. Anxiety and Low self-esteem
Although, you might assume a child who is being abused in any form, wouldn’t feel an attachment to the parent; however, that’s not always the case. A child may be loyal to the parent (or to the caregiver who is abusing him) because she is afraid of what could happen if she discloses the abuse.
An emotionally abused child might also think that being called names or denied affection is a normal way of life so he/she may not tell anyone what is happening!
You might also notice certain signs in the adult that’s perpetrating the abuse, such as that adult belittling the child in public, openly admitting their dislike or hate of a child, applying severe punishments, showing unrealistic expectations of the child and being emotionally indifferent. Abusers may have a history of violence or aggression or they may experience substance abuse issues.
Don’t assume that it is always a parent who’s emotionally abusing the child. Though they’re the most likely perpetrator if you suspect something is going on, any authority figure can be the culprit in the situation.
Forms of Emotional Abuse
Emotional child abuse comes in several forms. It could involve insulting or belittling words or actions to the child, or it might be total indifference that results in emotional deprivation. Sometimes emotional abuse occurs in conjunction with physical or sexual abuse or neglect.
While emotional abuse often manifests through words, caregivers’ actions can also play a role. Emotional deprivation occurs when a parent or caregiver doesn’t show the child love or make her feel wanted, secure, or worthy. Often, they’ll withhold affection or touch, which are important parts of a child’s emotional development.
Potential effects include:
1. Difficulty maintaining healthy relationships.
2. Increased risk of mental health issues.
3. Increased social problems.
4. Greater risk of repeating the cycle of abuse.
Having a positive relationship with an adult, however, can be a protective factor. A loving, nurturing parent, grandparent, or other individuals, for example, can help buffer some of the negative effects of emotional abuse.
Emotional abuse also strains society as a whole. It places a burden on the health and social care systems
1. If a child is being emotionally abused, the first course of action is to ensure the child’s safety. Then, appropriate treatment can begin. The perpetrator may require treatment, especially if it’s a parent. Treatment may include individual therapy, parenting classes, or other services. Victims of emotional abuse may benefit from talk therapy with a licensed mental health professional.
In addition to processing the abuse, children who have been emotionally abused may benefit from learning new skills, such as healthy ways to cope with emotions and social skills that help them resolve conflict peacefully.
2- If you suspect that a child is subject to emotional abuse, report it to child protective services. An evaluation may be in order to assist a child who is being abused. If you think your child is being emotionally abused by someone else; a teacher, or coach for example—it’s important to intervene. Take steps to keep your child safe and seek professional help when necessary.
3- And, if you or your partner have emotionally abused your child, it’s important to seek professional help for both you and your child. Talk to your doctor or contact a mental health professional. Because if it is allowed to continue and left untreated, there may be lifelong consequences for your child.