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Clinical Reference Systems: Pediatric Advisor 10.0

Emotional Abuse: The Effects on Children

All parents become frustrated with their children at one point or another. Sometimes parents say things to their children out of anger and frustration. When parents are angry, they can unintentionally send messages that their children are worthless, flawed, or unloved. Most parents do not realize that such behavior is considered emotional abuse.

Some examples of emotional abuse are:

  • Name-calling (for example, "you're stupid" or "crybaby").
  • Labeling children as bad instead of labeling their behavior.
  • Letting children know they are a burden (for example, "I wish you were never born.").
  • Blaming children for causing problems the family may be having (for example, "It's your fault mommy and daddy are getting a divorce").
  • Discounting children's feelings (for example, making fun of a child if he cries when hurt or sad).

No one denies the difficulties of raising children. Here are some examples of appropriate actions you could try when you feel angry or frustrated:

  • Leave the room and take a break until you feel more comfortable talking to the child.
  • Make it clear to the child that you do not like her behaviors but still love her.
  • Set clear, consistent limits on behavior (for example, time-outs, sending your child to his room).
  • Discuss your concerns with a pediatric health care provider.

Giving children praise, attention, and respect are crucial in fostering healthy self-esteem. Some examples of things you can do when a child behaves in ways that you like or approve of are:

  • Praise your children at least once a day (for example, "You did a good job of putting away your toys").
  • Tell your child at least once a day why you love him.
  • Listen to your child.
  • Ask your child about his day.

When feeling frustrated with your children remember:

  • Don't take children's behaviors personally. Children get frustrated too.
  • Children are not little adults. They express feelings differently than adults. Adults can verbalize their feelings. Children express their feelings through behaviors (like crying or tantrums) and through play.

Written by Lawrence R. Ricci, M.D., and Christina Comenos, L.M.S.W.
Copyright 1999 Clinical Reference Systems