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April/May 2000  -  Volume 3  -  Issue 3

Being Hurt . . . by what is not there
Provided by Prevent Child Abuse America

What is Emotional Neglect?

We all know that broken bones can hurt. We all know that bruises can hurt. But there are other kinds of hurt, as well.

Emotional neglect or abuse can hurt as much as physical abuse. But it can be harder to see because words don't leave marks on the outside of kids. Words leave marks on the inside.

Emotional neglect happens when kids do not get the love and attention they need to feel good about themselves. Their parents will not tell them how much they are loved. Their parents will not show them affection, like hugs and kisses. Their parents will not tell them how important they are. Their parents will not say "Good job!" when they do something right.

A child who is physically neglected can be emotionally neglected. But emotional neglect can exist by itself. Children may be cared for in every other way, but not receive the love and attention they need.

Impact of Emotional Neglect

Studies that have looked at emotionally neglected children as they grow up show that these kids have many different problems. Some research has shown that emotionally neglected toddlers and preschoolers tend to be angry, refusing to follow directions, giving up easily when asked to do something and showing little joy or happiness.

Later in elementary school, research shows that neglected children tend to have a hard time making friends and paying attention in class, resulting in poor academic performance. These children tend to be angry and fight a lot.

When children show these sorts of problems, it becomes even more difficult for others to give children the warm and positive messages they need to feel better about themselves. So the problems continue and can get worse over time.

When children are emotionally neglected, it is as if a part of them dies inside. If you are a parent or another important person in a child's life, that child will look to you to help him or her feel good about himself or herself. When kids go through life without love and attention, they think they don't deserve it. They don't know how valuable they really are.

Possible Signs of Emotional Neglect

  • babies who spend long periods of time in their crib without a parent checking on them.
  • babies who do not respond or show happiness when you pay attention to them.
  • children who seem to have no friends.
  • parents who seem depressed or unhappy, or who never show joy in being a parent.
  • families that seem to have few visitors of close friends.

~ Adapted from "Emotional Neglect: Being Hurt by What is Not There" by Jon Korfmacher, Ph.D. C 1998 Prevent Child Abuse America. 1-800-CHILDREN: 


April/ May 2000 - Volume 3 Issue 3 - Articles