Effects of verbal abuse on children can be more serious, and it is one of the most overlooked forms of child abuse (1). It is often falsely represented as a form of “tough love” or “disciplining.” However, there can be long-term and short-term consequences. Children may feel humiliated, ashamed, or unloved and may not express it. They may also hesitate to indulge in communication with their parents who verbally abuse them.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2021, at least one in seven children experienced child abuse or neglect in the United States.
Threatening or yelling at children can negatively impact their mental health eventually. Read on to know the side effects of verbal abuse in children and some positive parental strategies.
Short-Term Effects Of Verbal Abuse On Children
While the damages caused by verbal abuse cannot be seen externally, it leaves behind a psychological trauma that often makes it difficult for the child to get over. The short-term effects are described below (2) (3) (4):
1. Routine or clinical depression
Demoralizing or yelling at children can result in negative outcomes.
- The child may develop inferiority complexes and may keep himself aloof from others.
- This condition may become a permanent, that is, clinical one if the abuse is allowed to happen frequently and for a long term.
2. Deteriorating mental and physical performances
With lower self confidence, the child may exhibit poor mental and physical performances.
- If a parent for instance says, “I know you will win the race”, the child will automatically start assuming that he has won the race and he will have no doubts in his mind, irrespective of what the outcome may be.
- On the other hand, if you tell your child “you just don’t have the stamina”, he will get nervous about the poor outcome predicted for him. The child at this point may decide to lose to prove that his parents are right.
3. Develop inferiority complexes
When a child is yelled at constantly, he starts believing “there must be something wrong with me”.
- He starts developing inferiority complexes and feels his friends to be superior to him.
- Since he has been suggested that is not at par with others, he starts assuming others to be better than him and this in turn makes him abusive as well.
According to California-based clinical psychologist, Dr. Deborah Vinall, “Verbal abuse is innately traumatizing, particularly when chronic and unrestrained. The effects on the developing psyche are even more profound than that of physical abuse, as the child’s very sense of self is assaulted.”
4. Aggressive behavior
Verbal abuse may affect a child’s ability to form healthy emotional attachments, preventing them from developing the ability to resolve conflicts. This can put them at a higher risk for problems with their peers all through their childhood and even during their adulthood (5) (6) (7).
- Children with a verbally abusive parent are more likely to become physically and verbally aggressive.
- Studies indicate that a child who has experienced both physical abuse and verbal aggression has a higher likelihood of experiencing delinquency, interpersonal problems, and aggression.
- The child may become unusually compliant or passive.
- Repeated abuse over time can cause them to develop signs of dependent personality disorder.
- They may experience discomfort when making decisions, volunteering for tasks, offering nurturance to others, expressing disagreements out of fear of losing the relationship.
Long Term Effects Of Verbal Abuse On Children
Children who have been subjected to constant verbal abuse suffer from permanent health and psychological disorders. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from 2016-19, US children aged 3-17 years are most diagnosed with depression (4.4%), behavioral problems (8.9%), ADHD (9.8%), and anxiety (9.4%).
Here are discussed some of the behavioral problems:
1. Health issues
Depression leads to “substitution chain”, in which the victim, to satisfy his pleasures, tends to indulge in overeating or stop eating altogether leading to eating disorders. This affects his growth and development of bones, muscles and vital organs are also impaired. The child, thus, gets weaker and weaker with time which may cause a developmental delay.
As shown in the graph, hospitalization of children due to abuse and neglect in the US increased significantly in 2020 when compared to 2019. The Covid-19 pandemic made the situation worse as people were forced to stay indoors due to lockdowns.
Hospitalization due to child abuse and neglect in the USSource: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, CDC
2. Low self-confidence
Qualities of dominance and confidence are vital for a successful professional life and a satisfying personal life for adults. A low self-esteem can result in frustration and depression.
3. Low hope in life
Victims subjected to constant verbal abuse may fail to develop a positive outlook and show poor self-confidence that might cause problems in their later stages of life.
4. Become addictive
The drive to accomplish a goal often keeps us away from alcohol or drugs. Again, if you look at the simple fact, the hungry will look for food while the depressed will look for addictive substances or other coping strategies to keep themselves away from reality.
5. Develop anti-social tendencies
The worst side effect is that abused children often grow up to be damaged adults and abused parents as well. Several studies on criminals’ childhood have established links between verbal abuse and the individual’s criminal history. Additionally, After effects of abuse may also include guilt, post-traumatic stress, and tendency to self-harm.
Erika Bocknek, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) from the Detroit Metropolitan Area, Michigan, opines, “Often children who were verbally abused by their own parents are at risk of repeating this cycle and experience challenges in other interpersonal relationships. Corrective experiences in relationships with loving and empathetic supplemental caregivers and later, peers and partners provide important opportunities for healing.”
Emotional Child Abuse Vs. Verbal Child Abuse
Sometimes verbal abuse can also be emotional abuse. In many cases, emotional abuse is a form of constant emotional maltreatment or neglect that your child feels subjected to, either by you or someone else close to him. Emotional or psychological abuse can cause some very serious damage to your child’s cognitive, emotional, social, and psychological development (10). Sometimes, the parent or the caregiver will emotionally abuse the child knowing very well what the consequences can be. At other times, parents or caregivers can subject the child to emotional abuse without realizing what they are doing.
Here are a few situations that can make your child suffer from emotional abuse:
1. Ignoring your child
- You may be ignoring your child when you, or the main caregiver, are not present with him most of the time, to such an extent that he starts feeling lonely.
- Also, in some situations, you may be physically present with your child, but may not be paying any attention to him.
- Other situations in which your child may feel ignored are if you avoid making eye contact while speaking to him or do not frequently address him by name.
2. Rejecting your child’s needs
- Rejecting your child’s needs could mean something as simple as ridiculing your child in front of others, which could seem a small incident to you at the time, but can have a grave and long-lasting consequence.
- You may regularly refuse to respond to your child’s simple physical needs by not touching or hugging him. You may also be rejecting his basic needs and wants.
3. Keeping your child in isolation
- Keeping your child in isolation means that you regularly prevent your child from being in touch with his friends or peers. This is known as social isolation and it could also mean a situation where you prevent your child from having regular social interactions with other family members or adults.
- Keeping your child in isolation will also refer to those times when you may choose to limit your child’s freedom of movement, often in the way of keeping him grounded as a punishment. While many parents do punish their child by confining them, it can become a form of emotional abuse for the child if it is too frequent.
4. Exploiting or corrupting the child by manipulating them
- If your child is suffering from the exploitative or corrupt form of emotional abuse, someone may be teaching or encouraging him to take part in activities that are inappropriate or even illegal.
- In some cases, your child may also be forced into the same, sometimes without your knowledge.
- Exploitative or corrupt forms of emotional abuse could involve behavior from the parent or the main caregiver that is antisocial or self-destructive. It could encourage risky behavior in the child by forcing him to lie or steal or get involved in flesh trade.
5. Verbal assault and abuse
- The verbal form of emotional abuse of a child can also have a very strong and long-lasting effect on him.
- A verbal assault could involve ridiculing, shaming, belittling the child on a regular basis. It could also involve a situation in which someone verbally threatens your child.
6. Terrorizing the child
- When a child feels terrorized as a form of emotional abuse, it means that the parent or caregiver threatens or bullies the child to make him obey.
- A parent or a caregiver can threaten or bully the child in various ways. It could be an act that puts the child in a dangerous or uncomfortable situation. It could also be an act of separating him from his favorite pet or toy or even a sibling until he complies.
- In many cases, the child can feel terrorized or bullied when the parent or caregiver puts unrealistic expectations in front of him. He may fear dangerous consequences if he does not meet the expectations.
A Few Facts On Emotional Abuse In Children
Here are a few shocking facts about emotional abuse in children:
- Almost 90 percent of all child deaths are a result of instigation by family members or close associates.
- Children who are victims of abuse have a 25 percent higher risk of suffering from various health and mental issues.
- Children who suffer from emotional abuse are prone to- teen pregnancy, delinquent behavior, dropping out of school, and substance abuse.
Tips To Prevent Emotional Abuse
As a parent or caregiver, it may be true that you love your child or ward, but it can also be true that you do end up making him suffer from emotional abuse unknowingly. It is true that even model parents yell at their children or ignore them sometimes. When such instances happen as a one-off behavior, it is not abusive in any way. However, the risk of emotional abuse starts to emerge when this type of behavior turns into a regular habit.
Dana M. Manzo, licensed psychotherapist from Florida, suggests, “It’s important for parents to find healthy ways to communicate with their children, such as using calm and respectful language, active listening, and positive reinforcement. If shouting or other forms of emotional abuse are a regular occurrence in the household, seeking the guidance of a mental health professional may be beneficial.”
While emotional abuse to a child can happen in any family with any background, there are some situations that can trigger it. Here are some situations that could increase the risk of emotional abuse (11) (12):
- A family that is going through financial difficulties will find it difficult to take care of the child’s academic as well as other basic needs. A child in such a family is likely to face emotional abuse (13).
- A single parent may feel unduly burdened with all the care and responsibility of the child. He may vent his frustration on the child and thereby emotionally abuse him.
- A child is also at a higher risk of being subjected to emotional abuse in case there is a separation or divorce in the family. In such a situation, both the parents may be busy with the proceedings and may emotionally neglect the child.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How does verbal abuse affect the brain of children?
When children are subjected to verbal abuse, particularly from their parents, changes in brain structure have been discovered. The study found that parental verbal aggression during childhood may affect the development of the auditory association cortex, which is involved in language processing. Such children are more likely to experience severe psychiatric consequences, such as mood and anxiety disorders (14).
2. How do I deal with verbally abusive parents?
It can be challenging to recognize that you are being verbally or emotionally abused as a child, and even after you do, it can be challenging to fight back. In such cases, try to remain calm at the moment because talking or screaming back can aggravate the situation; identify the pattern of their behavior and leave immediately; seek advice from other older people or professionals; and try to express your emotions to your parents when they are calm and spend time with them (15) (16).
3. What do abusive parents act like?
Abusive parents are mostly toxic and have self-centered behavior; they can be seen yelling, screaming, or name-calling their children; they always blame their children, are manipulative, and force their children to do what they want; they are always in their children’s way and are unable to respect boundaries; abusive parents can also be seen physically abusing their children (16).
4. What are the signs of narcissistic abuse?
Jephtha Tausig, New York-based licensed clinical psychologist, says, “Narcissistic Abuse can cause depression and anxiety, shame, hypervigilance and feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness.”
Abuse of any kind can have long-lasting negative impacts on a child. Some are visible, while others are not. And verbal abuse is quite difficult to recognize. Therefore it is essential to stay alert and aware of the signs and effects of verbal abuse on children to get the help they need. If any child you know is suffering from verbal abuse, reach out to them and get the support they require. Help them understand that they do not need to put up with such hurtful talks and stress and raise their voice against painful remarks. During this time you may also provide them with extra love and care to support them emotionally.
Infographic: Effects Of Verbal Abuse On Children
Verbal abuse is a form of emotional abuse that can adversely affect children’s mental and physical health. Thus, its prompt identification and reporting are essential to save the child from undue mental trauma. Read this infographic to know the potential signs of verbal abuse, which could help determine if a child is facing verbal abuse.
- Children who experience verbal abuse frequently suffer from depression, poor physical and mental performance, and the onset of inferiority complexes.
- Verbal abuse can lead to long-term health problems, including disrupted eating patterns and poor growth.
- Parents often misinterpret abusive language as “tough love” or “disciplining” among children.
- Positive parenting techniques can reduce the harm that verbal abuse has on children.
Gain awareness of the indicators of psychological abuse in children and understand the potential repercussions by watching this informative video.
- Verbal beatings hurt as much as sexual abuse.
- Verbal abuse.
- Behavioral Indicators Of Abuse.
- What Are The Effects Of Verbal Abuse On Children?.
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- Y M Vissing et al; (1991); Verbal aggression by parents and psychosocial problems of children.
- How to Identify Child Abuse Ages 6-12.
- Dependent Personality Disorder.
- Emotional abuse.
- Protecting children from emotional abuse.
- Preventing Child Emotional Abuse.
- Trends in U.S. Emergency Department Visits Related to Suspected or Confirmed Child Abuse and Neglect Among Children and Adolescents Aged
- Akemi Tomoda, et al.; (2010); Exposure to Parental Verbal Abuse is Associated with Increased Gray Matter Volume in Superior Temporal Gyrus.
- 6 Ways To Deal With Emotionally Abusive Parents.
- How to Tell if You Have a Toxic Parent.
- Indicators of emotional child abuse
- Lani Thomason; (2018); Childhood Verbal Abuse and its Psychological Effects on Adults