Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse or psychological abuse, also referred to as psychological neglect, is a pattern of behavior that impairs a child or youth’s emotional development or sense of self-worth. This may include constant criticism, threats or rejection, as well as withholding love, support, or guidance. Below is a list of examples of behaviors that would be concerning and should be reported:

  • Inadequate nurturing or affection: The persistent, marked inattention to the child’s needs for affection, emotional support, or attention.
  • Chronic or extreme spousal abuse: The exposure to chronic or extreme spousal abuse or other domestic violence.
  • Permitted drug or alcohol abuse:  The encouragement or permission by the caregiver of drug or alcohol use by the child or youth.
  • Other permitted maladaptive behavior:  The encouragement or permission of other maladaptive behavior (e.g., chronic delinquency, assault) under circumstances where the parent or caregiver has reason to be aware of the existence and the seriousness of the problem, but does not intervene.
  • Isolation:  Denying a child the ability to interact or to communicate with peers or adults outside or inside the home.
  • Lack of supervision (a.k.a. inadequate supervision): All children and youth are different, so the amount of supervision needed may vary by the child or youth's age, development, or situation. The laws of Colorado do not set a specific age after which a child legally can stay home alone. In general, Colorado has accepted the age of 12 years as a guideline for when it might be appropriate for a child or youth to be left alone for short periods of time. 
  • Exposure to safety hazards:  Exposure to poisons, small objects that pose a choking hazard, electrical wires, stairs or drug paraphernalia.
  • Exposure to smoking:  Exposure to second-hand smoke, especially for children with asthma or other lung problems.
  • Exposure to guns and other weapons:  Exposure to loaded guns that are kept in the house and not locked up or are in reach of children.
  • Exposure to unsanitary household conditions:  Exposure to rotting food, human or animal feces, insect infestation, or lack of running or clean water.
  • Lack of car safety restraints: As required by law.
  • Inappropriate caregivers:  Leaving a child or youth in the care of someone who either is unable or should not be trusted to provide care for a child or youth. Examples of inappropriate caregivers include a young child, a known child abuser, or someone with a substance abuse problem.
  • Leaving a child with an appropriate caregiver, but without proper planning or consent: Not returning to pick up the child for several hours or days after the agreed upon pick-up time or not giving the caregiver all the necessary items to take care of the child or youth.
  • Leaving the child with a caregiver who is not adequately supervising the child or youth:  The caregiver is with the child or youth, but is not paying close attention to the child or youth due to constantly being distracted by other activities.
  • Permitting or not keeping the child from engaging in risky, illegal, or harmful behaviors: Letting a child or youth smoke marijuana or commit a crime.

Signs and Behaviors of the Child or Youth

  • Shows extremes in behavior, such as overly compliant or demanding behavior, extreme passivity, or aggression
  • Is either inappropriately adult (parenting other children, for example), or inappropriately infantile (frequently rocking or head-banging, for example)
  • Is delayed in physical or emotional development without a medical diagnosis 
  • Has attempted suicide
  • Reports a lack of attachment to the parent

Signs and Behaviors of the Parent or Caretaker

  • Constantly blames, belittles, or berates the child or youth
  • Is unconcerned about the child and refuses to consider offers of help for the child or youth’s problems
  • Overtly rejects the child
  • Actively refuses to respond to a child or youth's needs (i.e. refusing touch)
  • Consistently isolates child or youth from normal social contact with peers and family
If not you, then who?
Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline
Available 24 hours a day, every day. Anyone witnessing a child in a life-threatening situation should call 911 immediately.