► Health TopicsBehavioral and EmotionalChild neglect and emotional abuse

Child neglect and emotional abuse


Neglect and emotional abuse can cause a child a lot of harm. It is often hard to see or prove this kind of abuse, so other people are less likely to help the child. When a child is being physically or sexually abused, emotional abuse is also often happening to the child.


These are examples of emotional abuse:

  • Not providing the child with a safe environment. The child witnesses violence or severe abuse between parents or adults.
  • Threatening the child with violence or abandonment.
  • Constantly criticizing or blaming the child for problems.
  • The child's parent or caregiver does not show concern for the child, and refuses help from others for the child.

These are signs that a child that may be emotionally abused. They may have:

  • Problems in school
  • Eating disorders, leading to weight loss or poor weight gain
  • Emotional issues such as low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety
  • Extreme behavior such as acting out, trying hard to please, aggressiveness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Vague physical complaints


These are examples of child neglect:

  • Rejecting the child and not giving the child any love
  • Not feeding the child
  • Not dressing the child in proper clothing
  • Not giving needed medical or dental care
  • Leaving a child alone for a long time. This is called abandonment.

These are signs that a child that may be neglected. The child may:

  • Not go to school regularly
  • Smell badly and be dirty
  • Tells you that there is no one at home to take care of them.
  • The adult in their life does not seem to care about the child, is depressed, shows bizarre behavior, or uses alcohol or drugs


If you think a child is in immediate danger because of abuse or neglect, call 911.

Call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline (1-800-4-A-CHILD).

Know that children and parents can get help. The long-term outcome depends on:

  • How severe the abuse was
  • How long the child was abused
  • The success of therapy and parenting classes


Dubowitz H, Lane WG. Abused and neglected children. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme JW, Schor NF, Behrman RE, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 37.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Child Welfare Information Gateway. Identification of Abuse and Neglect. Available at: https://www.childwelfare.gov/can/identifying/. Accessed November 21, 2014.

Nicklaus Children's Hospital

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