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The behavior of an emotionally abusive parent or caregiver does not support a child's healthy development and well-being—instead, it creates an environment of fear, hostility, or anxiety. A child is sensitive to the feeling, opinions, and actions of his or her parents. Emotionally harmful attitudes may include the following.
Showing a lack of regard for the child
This behavior often includes rejecting the child by:
- Not showing affection.
- Ignoring the child's presence and obvious needs.
- Ignoring the child when he or she is in need of comfort.
- Not calling the child by his or her name.
Saying unkind things to the child
Emotionally abusive parents say things or convey feelings that can hurt a child deeply. Common examples include:
- Making the child feel unwanted, perhaps by stating or implying that life would be easier without the child. For example, a parent may tell a child, "I wish you were never born."
- Ridiculing or belittling the child, such as saying, "You are stupid."
- Threatening the child with harsh punishment or even death.
- Continuous verbal abuse.
- Comparing the child to siblings or peers.
- Blaming the child for family problems.
Creating an emotionally unhealthy environment
Some emotionally abusive parents place ill-advised or impossibly difficult expectations on their children, such as:
- Encouraging the child to commit immoral or illegal acts.
- Pressuring the child to grow up too fast.
- Expecting the child to perform beyond his or her capability or maturity.
- Isolating the child from family and friends.
Current as of: January 31, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
John Pope, MD, MPH - Pediatrics