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Child neglect and emotional abuse

Neglect and emotional abuse can cause a child with 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 may be emotionally abused. They may have any of the following:

  • Problems in school
  • Eating disorders, leading to weight loss or poor weight gain
  • Emotional issues such as low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety
  • Extreme behaviour 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 may be neglected. The child may:

  • Not go to school regularly
  • Smell bad and be dirty
  • Tell you that there is no one at home to take care of them
  • Be depressed, show bizarre behaviour, or use alcohol or drugs
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If you think a child is in immediate danger because of abuse or neglect, call emergency helpline number. The counsellor on the phone can help you figure out what steps to take next. All calls are anonymous and confidential.


The long-term outcome depends on:

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

Alternative Names

Neglect – child; Emotional abuse – child


Dubowitz H, Lane WG. Abused and neglected children. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme JW, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 40.

HealthyChildren.org website. Child abuse and neglect. www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/at-home/Pages/What-to-Know-about-Child-Abuse.aspx. Updated April 13, 2018. Accessed November 20, 2018.

US Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau website. Child abuse & neglect. www.acf.hhs.gov/cb/focus-areas/child-abuse-neglect. Updated August 20, 2018. Accessed November 20, 2018.