What is emotional abuse and how can you spot the signs?

What is emotional abuse and how can you spot the signs?

Posted on Jan 18, 2016

Child abuse



There are four types of abuse; neglect, emotional, physical and sexual. It’s important to know the different types so you can spot the signs and report accurately to your safeguarding lead/social services should you suspect that child abuse happening.

The NSPCC estimates for every child identified as needing protection from abuse, another eight are suffering abuse.


The definition of emotional abuse

Emotional abuse, sometimes referred to as psychological abuse, is the persistent emotional maltreatment of a child.

Emotional abuse usually accompanies all other forms of abuse but can also occur on its own.


There are two forms of emotional abuse:



Active abuse is similar to how we think of bullying; when someone intentionally scares or verbally abuses a child.


Passive abuse is similar to how we think of giving someone the cold shoulder. But not only would the child be being ignored, they would be denied love and care.


Possible signs of child neglect

With emotional abuse there isn’t a single sign, but there are some actions and emotions you can look out for. What to look out for depends on the age of the child.


Babies and young children:


  • Lack of confidence/anxiety
  • Overly-affectionate with strangers
  • Lack of closeness with parent
  • Aggression or nastiness towards other children


Older children:


  • Use of language that they should not be aware of at their age
  • Extreme outbursts or lack of control over their emotions
  • Apparent isolation from parents
  • Few friends and poor social skills


Remember, there are other types of abuse - emotional, physical and sexual abuse. We will be looking at the signs of these types of abuse in the next couple of weeks.


Don’t forget: The common behaviours of a child who has been/is being abused are;

  • Anxiety or depression
  • Self-harming
  • Thoughts about suicide
  • Obsessive behaviours
  • Aggression
  • Soiled clothing
  • Eating disorders or changes in eating habits
  • Sleeping trouble, nightmares or bed-wetting
  • Risky behaviour, including drugs and alcohol
  • Absence from school
  • Withdrawal or clinginess


Action to take if you suspect child abuse

If you suspect child abuse, don’t ignore it. Report it to your manager/safeguarding lead immediately. If your organisation doesn't have one, consider contacting children’s social care or the police on 999.


At flick we offer affordable child protection training that covers what child abuse is, how it affects child development, what to do and how to react to a disclosure, how to report concerns and what your legal duty and responsibility is as someone who works with children and young people.


Our level 2 accredited child protection course covers key points from:


  • Working together to safeguard children (2015) in England
  • Safeguarding children: working together under the Children Act 2004 in Wales
  • National Guidance for Child Protection in Scotland (2014)
  • Co-operating to safeguarding children (2003) in Northern Ireland
  • Keeping Safe in Education (2019).



Free signs of child abuse - staff posters


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