Although there may not be bruises or broken bones, psychological maltreatment can scar children for a lifetime and result in severe emotional distress, developmental problems and disruptive behavior.
In an updated clinical report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), “Psychological Maltreatment,” in the August 2012 issue of Pediatrics (published online July 30), the AAP describes how psychological maltreatment is one of the most common forms of child abuse, but also one of the most difficult to identify and prevent.
Emotional or psychological abuse is a repeated pattern of behavior by a parent or caregiver that can be verbal or nonverbal, active or passive, intentional or unintentional, but is interpreted negatively by a child, and can result in developmental, social, emotional and academic problems. This form of mistreatment can occur in many types of families, but is more common in homes with multiple stresses, including family conflict, mental health issues, physical violence, depression or substance abuse.
To date, not much is known about ways to intervene with parents who psychologically abuse their children; however it is hoped that health care providers can help to promote sensitive and attuned parenting using a range of approaches, such as educational strategies. If anyone suspects psychological or emotional abuse, they should contact child protective services for additional assessment and treatment.