Emotional abuse Keeping children safe
It’s very difficult to identify, or prove, emotional abuse. A child can be emotionally abused for years without any obvious signs. They may not tell anyone what’s happening until they reach a 'crisis point' (Rees, 2010).
Treating a child who has been emotionally abused
Once emotional abuse been identified, then work can begin to protect the child and reduce the harmful effects they have experienced.
Treatment needs to:
- focus on the child’s safety and welfare
- identify the factors that have contributed to the emotional abuse
- address the relationships and the environment that surrounds a child
- work to reduce the impact they have on the child
- increase their resilience to the effects of future abuse.
We don’t have much evidence about what treatment works (Glaser, 2011). But there have been promising results with two of the therapeutic interventions highlighted by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University:
- Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-Up (ABC)
- Intervention and the Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care for Preschoolers
Both of these aim to promote healthy attachment and positive relationships by working with children and caregivers in intensive sessions and weekly playgroups.
Any services that help to strengthen the parent-child relationship will also help to keep children safe from emotional abuse.
What we do about emotional abuse
Services for children, families and professionals
Have NSPCC Schools Service visit your school
If you work at a primary school in the UK and would like us to deliver an assembly and workshop get in touch.
Make a donation today
A child will contact Childline every 25 seconds. Donate now and help us be there for every child.
Get expert training and consultancy
Specialist and bespoke child protection courses
Child protection consultancy
Speak out. Stay safe.
Child protection in the UK
Support our research
Research like this helps keep children safe from abuse – but we can’t do it without our generous supporters.
Help and advice for professionals
We hold the UK's largest collection of child protection resources and the only UK database specialising in published material on child protection, child abuse and child neglect.
Research and resources
Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2012) The science of neglect: the persistent absence of responsive care disrupts the developing brain: working paper 12 (PDF). Cambridge, MA: Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University.
Doyle, C. (2001) Surviving and coping with emotional abuse in childhood. Clinical child psychology and psychiatry 6(3): 387-402.
Glaser, D. (2011) How to deal with emotional abuse and neglect: further development of a conceptual framework (FRAMEA). Child Abuse and Neglect 35(10): 866–875.
Landreth, G. (2002) Play therapy: the art of the relationship. New York; Hove, East Sussex: Brunner-Routledge.
Rees, C. A. (2010) Understanding emotional abuse. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 95(1):59-67.