This section is targeted toward adults because it may contain some sensitive information for children and child abuse victims. The information on this page is to help people you know who have been abused or are being abused. 

Healthline defines emotional child abuse as behaviors, speech, and actions of parents, caregivers, or other figures in a child’s life that have a negative mental impact on the child. It is also known as psychological, mental and verbal abuse, and can lead to serious crimes against the child.  

Emotional child abuse is the most common form of child abuse. Similarly to sexual abuse, the signs of emotional child abuse are hard to notice, yet the effects can be as detrimental as physical abuse. Emotional abuse is used to control, isolate or frighten another person mostly through criticism, embarrassment, shame, and blame. The scars of emotional abuse may not be visible, but it can destroy the child intellectually, emotionally, and behaviorally. Emotional abuse takes many forms, including:

  • Excessive name-calling

  • Repeated insulting

  • Continually ignoring or rejecting a child

  • Threatening violence to the child or their loved ones

  • Constant criticism, humiliation, or placing blaming

  • Withholding love, support, or praise from the child

  • Allowing the child to witness the physical/emotional abuse of another

  • Treating a child based on who they are (gender, sexuality, skin color, disability, etc.)

  • Socially or physically isolating a child

  • Constantly yelling, swearing or screaming at a child

  • Repeatedly telling a child they're worthless or unloved

  • Gaslighting

  • Extreme intimidation

  • Patronization


An abuser's tendency to abuse usually stems from a preceding event or situation. They don't grow up wishing to abuse children. To view the full list of factors that increase a child's risk of emotional abuse, and to learn of ways to lessen that risk, click here

Below are the signs that a child would exhibit if being emotionally abused. If you believe a child to be dealing with emotional abuse, please first check to see if they're exhibiting any of these signs:

  • Being fearful of a parent/other signature figure in the child's life

  • Sudden change in behavior

  • Seeming emotionally immature

  • Sudden change in speech

  • Avoiding/running away from home

  • Low self-esteem, self-image or confidence

  • Extreme fear of doing something wrong

  • Feeling unloved or worthless

  • Suicidal thoughts

  • Substance abuse

  • Increased fear, guilt or self-blame

  • Social withdrawal

  • Delay in development or decline in school work

  • Disruptive or secretive behavior

  • Behavioral extremes (very aggressive or very passive)

  • Trying too hard to please parents

  • Lack of trust in adults

  • Increased lying or stealing

Emotional abuse should not be confused with momentary lapses of anger. To tell the two apart, ask yourself if there are patterns of emotionally abusive behavior from the parent/caregiver. Momentary anger would not leave the child repeatedly feeling worthless and unloved. That said, the behavior patterns, above, may be the result of some other cause, but you should not dismiss your suspicions.