Emotional Injury - Alberta Human Services - Government of Alberta

Emotional Injury

Emotional abuse is an attack on the child’s self-concept and self-worth. It is a pattern of ongoing behaviour by the parent or guardian that seriously interferes with the healthy development or the mental or emotional functioning of the child. Emotional abuse often happens along with other forms of abuse, such as neglect or physical abuse. Emotional abuse is the result of:

  • exposure to family violence in the home;
  • exposure to chronic alcohol or drug use in the home;  
  • rejection;
  • the child being ignored or isolated;
  • threats, humiliation, unrealistic expectations, or inappropriate accusations/criticism;
  • corruption (permitting a child to use alcohol or drugs, watch or participate in cruelty to animals, or participate in criminal activities); or
  • negative exposure to someone with a mental or emotional condition (including suicidal or homicidal ideas) in the home.

Emotional injury is the least visible form of child abuse. In fact, a child may appear to be clean, well groomed and well fed. But the child may be sad, depressed, timid, angry or withdrawn. Emotional abuse has serious, long term effects on children and can often outlast the impact of neglect or physical injury. Listed below are some possible signs, of emotional abuse.

Parent’s behavioural signs

The parent may:

  • blame or belittle the child in public
  • refuse to comfort the child when the child is upset or frightened
  • treat other children in the home better (more acceptance and less criticism)
  • talk about the child in negative ways (stupid, bad, troublemaker, useless)
  • blame the child for their own problems and disappointments
  • identify the child with disliked family members

Child’s behavioural signs

The child may:

  • be overly compliant, passive or shy
  • have episodes of aggressive, angry and demanding behaviour
  • be scared of failure
  • show anxiety, fear or depression
  • have trouble concentrating
  • have trouble learning
  • have speech delays
  • have trouble sleeping
  • give up easily
  • be either boastful or negative about self
  • constantly apologize
  • cry for no apparent reason
  • demand adult attention
  • have problems with bed-wetting or fecal incontinence

Call 310‑0000 to obtain the telephone number of your local office or call the Child Abuse Hotline: 1‑800‑387‑5437 to report a concern.

Modified: 2012-11-13
PID: 15390