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Childhood Emotional Neglect: Effects and Tips To Overcome It

Medically reviewed by Ruben Macapinlac, MD, DPPS · Pediatrics · Philippine Pediatric Society

Written by Nikita Bhalla · Updated Sep 08, 2022

    Childhood Emotional Neglect: Effects and Tips To Overcome It

    According to the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data system (NCANDS), childhood emotional neglect is a kind of maltreatment in which a child fails to receive necessary or age-appropriate care from the caregiver, although they are capable of doing so.

    What Is Emotional Neglect?

    As per author and psychologist Dr.Jonice Webb, emotional neglect is when parents do not respond to their child’s emotional needs. 

    There are four basic types of neglect, including

    • Physical neglect
    • Medical neglect
    • Educational neglect
    • Emotional neglect

    Among these types, emotional neglect is often known as an invisible problem. It could be a result of various factors like busy parents, the structure of the family, mental health issues, parental history of emotional neglect, or inappropriate expectations from children.

    Effects of Childhood Emotional Neglect

    Childhood emotional neglect can lead to a number of physical as well as mental issues. When children fail to receive the warmth, love, and encouragement they need from their family, they tend to suffer from poor self-image, substance abuse, and destructive behavior. And it can even result in fatal consequences like suicide.

    Children who have grown being emotionally neglected, tend to have their own set of struggles. As their emotions failed to get validation in childhood due to emotional neglect, they then find difficulty in accepting and understanding their own emotions as adults.

    What Are the Symptoms of Childhood Emotional Neglect?

    Childhood emotional neglect is an invisible problem, which keeps doing silent damage to a child’s mind and life. It eventually makes it hard to know if a kid is suffering from it. However, a kid who is neglected emotionally may exhibit signs such as:

    • Low self-esteem
    • Perfectionism
    • Feeling of missing something, but not sure what it is
    • Sensitivity to rejection
    • Anxiety or depression
    • Excessive fear or phobias
    • Lack of personal hygiene
    • Abnormal eating habits
    • Lack of self-control
    • Unwilling to follow rules
    • Nightmares

    How Does Emotional Neglect Affect Children?

    Children who grow up with childhood emotional neglect will feel unworthy or deficient in some ways. They often find it difficult to make new friends. They have problems with language and tend to leave school sooner than other kids. Also, children, when feeling left out at home, may seek attention and social interaction on social networks. This can be dangerous as it can expose them to cyber-bullying.

    Possible Reasons for Childhood Emotional Neglect

    There are various reasons why childhood emotional neglect takes place. Let’s read about some:

    Family Structure

    If you are a single parent with a hectic and demanding work-life, you might find less to no time to spend with your child, as you are busy making ends meet for your family. Considering other situations where you have a big family, say five kids, it again becomes difficult to spend equal time and connect with each one of them emotionally. This could lead to emotional neglect which isn’t intentional but due to helpless situations. 

    Alcoholic Parents

    In such cases, parents are not in a state to understand much about their lives, let alone their child’s emotional well-being. When parents are dependent on alcohol, drugs, or smoking, they lose out on understanding their child’s emotional and physical health requirements, leading to emotional neglect.

    When Parents Faced Emotional Neglect Themselves in Their Childhood

    If a parent has faced emotional negligence in their own childhood, they would find it difficult to empathize with their children’s emotional needs as well. They might fail to establish and nurture a fruitful relationship with their child, resulting in their child’s emotional neglect.

    Unreasonable Expectations from Parents

    When parents start expecting their children to behave and act in a specific way, they don’t realize they are giving way to emotional neglect. Failing to understand their kid’s personality, nature and emotional wants make the kid feel emotionally neglected by their parents. 

    How to Emotionally Support Your Children?

    Many parents emotionally neglect their children without being aware of their actions and their adverse results. To protect your children from emotional neglect, you should:

    • Listen to your children. Spending quality and enough time talking to them and letting them know that you care to boost their emotional strength and self-confidence.
    • Discuss with your spouse. Both of you should discuss how you can work together to take better care of your child and maybe adopt a new parenting style. Get some time off work and visit a counselor or therapist to get some advice. Try to be your child’s friend and morale booster.
    • Apologize when necessary. Sometimes, you may do or say something that hurts your child’s feelings. Don’t just ignore it. Even small arguments could result in emotional neglect. If you apologize for your mistake, the child would learn and do the same next time. 
    • Have realistic expectations. Keep your expectations reasonable and avoid putting too much pressure on them. Give your relationship with your child a more friendly and lovable approach. 
    • Reward your children. Praise them in an honest and heartfelt way on occasions of good behavior or any smallest of achievements. 

    Emotional neglect is a big deal when it comes to parenting. An emotionally neglected kid might find it difficult to connect emotionally with others as they grow up. It could also lead to social exclusion. Give your child the right attention and emotional understanding they need from the nascent stage. 

    Sometimes, all you need to do is be there and listen!

    Learn more about Child Health here


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Ruben Macapinlac, MD, DPPS

    Pediatrics · Philippine Pediatric Society

    Written by Nikita Bhalla · Updated Sep 08, 2022

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