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Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse is the persistent emotional maltreatment of a child such as to cause severe and adverse effects on the child’s emotional development.

It may involve conveying to a child that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate, or valued only insofar as they meet the needs of another person. It may include not giving the child opportunities to express their views, deliberately silencing them or ‘making fun’ of what they say or how they communicate.

It may feature age or developmentally inappropriate expectations being imposed on children. These may include interactions that are beyond a child’s developmental capability as well as over-protection and limitation of exploration and learning, or preventing the child from participating in normal social interaction.

It may involve seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another. It may involve serious bullying (including cyber-bullying), causing children frequently to feel frightened or in danger, or the exploitation or corruption of children.

Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of maltreatment of a child, although it may occur alone.

Some of the following signs may be indicators of emotional abuse:

  • Children who are excessively withdrawn, fearful, or anxious about doing something wrong

  • Parents or carers who withdraw their attention from their child, giving the child the ‘cold shoulder’

  • Parents or carers blaming their problems on their child; and

  • Parents or carers who humiliate their child, for example, by name-calling or making negative comparisons.

Below are some useful resources from the Sheffield Children Safeguarding Partnership (SCSP) that will help you to identify and respond to the emotional abuse of children.

SCSP fact sheet:

SCSP city-wide policies and protocols:

Other related guidance is available on this website here: Information and resources

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