What is emotional abuse?

Emotional child abuse occurs when a child is repeatedly rejected, isolated or frightened by threats, or by witnessing family violence.

It also includes hostility, derogatory name-calling and put-downs, and persistent coldness from a person, to the extent that the child suffers, or is likely to suffer, emotional or psychological harm to their physical or developmental health. Emotional abuse may occur with or without other forms of abuse.

What are the physical indicators of emotional child abuse?

Physical indicators of emotional abuse include (but are not limited to):

  • language delay, stuttering or selectively being mute (only speaking with certain people or in certain situations)
  • delays in emotional, mental or physical development.

What are the behavioural indicators of emotional child abuse?

Behavioural indicators of emotional abuse include (but are not limited to):

In an infant or toddler:

  • self-stimulatory behaviours, for example, rocking, head banging
  • crying excessively or not at all
  • listless and immobile and/or emancipated and pale
  • exhibits significant delays in gross motor development and coordination
  • their parent/carer is unresponsive or impatient to child's cues and unreceptive to support.

In all children, infants and toddlers:

  • overly compliant, passive and undemanding behaviour
  • extremely demanding, aggressive and attention-seeking behaviour or anti-social and destructive behaviour
  • low tolerance or frustration
  • poor self-image and low self-esteem
  • unexplained mood swings, depression, self-harm
  • behaviours that are not age-appropriate, e.g. overly adult, or overly infantile
  • exhibits significant delays in gross and fine motor development and coordination
  • poor social and interpersonal skills
  • violent drawings or writing
  • lack of positive social contact with other children.