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)

If you think a child is in immediate danger

Don't delay – call the police on 999,
or call us on 0808 800 5000, straight away.

Worried about a child?

Contact our trained helpline counsellors for 24/7 help, advice and support.

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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:

  1. focus on the child’s safety and welfare
  2. identify the factors that have contributed to the emotional abuse
  3. address the relationships and the environment that surrounds a child
  4. work to reduce the impact they have on the child
  5. 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.

Play therapy has also been shown to have a positive effect on children who have been subjected to emotional abuse (Doyle, 2001; Landreth, 2002).

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


Childline is our free, confidential helpline for children and young people. Whenever children need us, Childline is there for them – by phone, email or live chat.

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Childline is our free, confidential helpline for children and young people. Whenever children need us, Childline is there for them – by phone, email or live chat.

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Speak out. Stay safe.

Our programme (formerly Childline Schools Service) supports specially trained staff and volunteers to talk to primary school children about abuse.
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Research and resources

Research, reports and resources about emotional abuse
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Our free service for people who work with children can help you find the latest policy, practice, research and news on child protection and related subjects.

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  1. 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. 

  2. Doyle, C. (2001) Surviving and coping with emotional abuse in childhood. Clinical child psychology and psychiatry 6(3): 387-402.

  3. Landreth, G. (2002) Play therapy: the art of the relationship. New York; Hove, East Sussex: Brunner-Routledge.

  4. Rees, C. A. (2010) Understanding emotional abuse. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 95(1):59-67.