Tusla - Ireland's Child & Family Agency

Emotional Abuse

Emotional neglect and abuse is found typically in a home lacking in emotional warmth. It is not necessarily associated with physical deprivation. The emotional needs of the children are not met; the parent’s relationship to the child may be without empathy and devoid of emotional responsiveness.

Emotional neglect and abuse occurs when adults responsible for taking care of children are unaware of and unable (for a range of reasons) to meet their children’s emotional and developmental needs. Emotional neglect and abuse is not easy to recognise because the effects are not easily observable. Skuse (1989) states that ‘emotional abuse refers to the habitual verbal harassment of a child by disparagement, criticism, threat and ridicule, and the inversion of love, whereby verbal and non-verbal means of rejection and withdrawal are substituted’.

Emotional neglect and abuse can be identified with reference to the indices listed below. However, it should be noted that no one indicator is conclusive of emotional abuse. In the case of emotional abuse and neglect, it is more likely to impact negatively on a child where there is a cluster of indices, where these are persistent over time and where there is a lack of other protective factors.

  • rejection;
  • lack of comfort and love;
  • lack of attachment;
  • lack of proper stimulation (e.g. fun and play);
  • lack of continuity of care (e.g. frequent moves, particularly unplanned);
  • continuous lack of praise and encouragement;
  • serious over-protectiveness;
  • inappropriate non-physical punishment (e.g. locking in bedrooms);
  • family conflicts and/or violence;
  • every child who is abused sexually, physically or neglected is also emotionally abused;
  • inappropriate expectations of a child relative to his/her age and stage of development.

Children who are physically and sexually abused and neglected also suffer from emotional abuse.

WEBSITE BY CREATIVE INC & Kooba Web Design Dublin