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Childhood emotional neglect: characteristics, effects and treatment

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Children can be the victims of all kinds of harmful behaviors, even those that have not been done intentionally. We usually think of mistreatment and physical and verbal abuse as the main ways of hurting the little ones, but it can also happen that the most unconscious negligence takes a toll on your welfare.

Child emotional neglect is the failure of parents and other caregivers to identify and respond to the emotional needs of young children.. Although it is not usually malicious, this type of behavior has long-term consequences for the infant, both personally and relationally.

Understanding why this type of neglect occurs and what its main symptoms are can help prevent it, raising awareness among parents to pay more attention to how it is done. They feel their children and understand that the needs of the little ones are not only physiological, such as eating or sleeping, but there are also emotional ones and must be satisfied.

  • Related article: "Emotional psychology: main theories of emotion"
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What is child emotional neglect?

Child emotional neglect can be described as the situation that occurs when one or both parents of a child do not adequately meet their emotional needs. This type of emotional neglect stands out because it does not necessarily imply emotional abuse in childhood, but rather It is rather a product of the carelessness, conscious or not, of the parents with respect to the emotions of their son. Parents treat their children's emotions as irrelevant, invalid, or excessive.

This type of emotional neglect can be evidenced in the type of phrases that victims of childhood emotional neglect often hear.

  • "You don't really feel that way."
  • "It wasn't that bad."
  • "It's not worth bothering about it."
  • "You are being too sensitive."

We can better understand this type of emotional neglect with the following example:

A boy tells his father that he is sad for a friend from class. The father, who does not understand that his son needs emotional support because he feels discomfort, does not understand it. The adult thinks that it is nothing more than child's play, instead of stopping for a moment to listen to his son and support him in whatever is necessary. As situations of this type are repeated, the child will begin to believe that her emotional needs are not important and will stop seeking support.

Child abuse and emotional neglect are not the same. Abuse is usually intentional, a deliberate choice by one person to harm another. While emotional neglect may be an intentional disregard for the child's feelings, it more frequent is that it occurs for the simple fact of not identifying the emotional needs of the small. For this reason, it is possible to find situations where there is emotional neglect but not in other aspects related to childcare, such as food or hygiene.

The effects of emotional neglect in childhood can be very subtle and, on top of that, parents may not know they are doing it. Even parents who love their children the most can fall into these types of dynamics.. Added to this, it is difficult for child professionals, such as pediatric doctors, teachers or even child psychologists to recognize this phenomenon. The more serious the case, the greater the emotional neglect of children, the easier it is to detect and the more they attract attention.

  • Related article: "The 9 types of abuse and their characteristics"

How does emotional neglect affect children?

As we said, depending on the severity of the case, it will be more or less easy to identify a case of child emotional neglect. The symptoms of this type of neglect can vary from very subtle to very striking although, At first, the damage caused by this type of situation is rather silent. However, the effects will sooner or later appear and will worsen if nothing is done to prevent it. Among them we find:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Apathy
  • Developmental delay
  • Hyperactivity
  • Aggressiveness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Addiction
  • Social isolation
  • Callous or indifferent personality
  • Avoidance of intimacy and emotional closeness

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How does adult child neglect affect?

Children who have been the object of child emotional neglect many times they become adults with a dysfunctional personality and maladaptive social behavior. Because their emotional needs were not adequately met or validated by their parents or other attachment figures end up becoming adults who don't know very well how to deal with their own emotions.

Added to this, there are multiple mental health problems and relational dysfunctions that are associated with experiencing emotional neglect during childhood.

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Depression
  • Emotional absence
  • Increased risk of eating disorder
  • Avoid intimacy
  • Feeling deeply damaged
  • Feel empty
  • Little self-discipline
  • Guilt and shame
  • Anger and aggressiveness
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Avoidance of any type of emotional dependence

It is common for adults who experienced childhood emotional neglect to replicate with their children what their parents did. That is, in these cases there is a greater risk of becoming parents who emotionally neglect their children since, as they were little they were not validated or given importance to their emotions, it is difficult for them to know how to listen and understand the emotional concerns of their own children.

Effects of child emotional neglect
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What makes parents emotionally neglectful?

The fact that parents do not adequately identify or assess the moods of their children can be the consequence of several causes. As with child abuse, the causes of neglect are multifaceted and often difficult to understand. Most parents try to be the best for their children, trying to satisfy their needs and offering them security and protection.

Therefore, before assuming that child emotional neglect is a consequence of the fact that the parents who exercise it are bad people, it is necessary to take into consideration several aspects that could be the cause of this negligent conduct towards their children:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Having a terminal illness
  • Go through a divorce
  • Job loss
  • Addictions
  • Resentment towards your child (p. g., unwanted pregnancy)
  • Personal lack of emotional fulfillment
  • A history of neglect by your parents
  • Lack of healthy parenting skills
  • Recent mourning
  • Being a victim of abuse (p. eg, partner, family member ...)
  • Fatigue job
  • Financial concerns

Many neglectful parents come from families in which they themselves were emotionally ignored by their parents when they were young. As a result of that, they may not have the parenting skills necessary to meet the emotional needs of their children. It can also happen that the child is unwanted or has an infuriating behavior, something that provokes anger and resentment in the father and makes him ignore the child's pleas and questions.

It often happens that parents who emotionally neglect their children also neglect their own emotions. Adults who lack strong and emotionally satisfying relationships with a partner, friends, or family are at greater risk of not being able to respond appropriately to the emotional demands of their children.

Treatment for child emotional neglect

Even if the person is already an adult, it is possible to help them manage her past by being the subject of emotional neglect, giving him the tools to handle the emotions that his parents did not pay attention to and teach him to avoid committing the same type of neglect with their own children.

Among the options to treat the effects of childhood emotional neglect we find:

Child therapy

A clinical child psychologist can help children who have not been emotionally listened to by their parents learn to deal with their emotions in a healthy and assertive way. If the child is used to repressing his emotions when he sees that his attachment figures do not lend him attention, it will be difficult to teach him to recognize and experience emotions in a healthy way, although it is not impossible.

If the patient is already an adult, the consequences of childhood emotional neglect will be profound, the result of years of repressing her emotions. It will be more difficult for the patient to learn to manage and express the emotions that will undoubtedly experience throughout their adult life, as these are responses to the social environment in which we we find.

Be that as it may, the point is that mental health therapists and professionals can help reduce and alleviate the effects of child emotional neglect helping both children and adults to learn to identify, accept and express their emotions in a way healthy.

  • Related article: "Child therapy: what is it and what are its benefits"

Family therapy

Since childhood emotional neglect usually occurs between parents and children, family therapy is essential. This type of neglect has as its main component the quality of the relationship between parents and children that, without the need for adults are bad parents or abusers, has the problem that emotions are not properly recognized or managed.

Therefore, the task of the family therapist will be to help parents understand the impact they are having by not pay adequate attention to the emotional well-being of their children, even if they have not done it with malicious intent or intentionally. Added to this, this therapist can help the child learn to deal with the problems that she may face. The earlier the intervention in the family, the less the effects of childhood emotional neglect will be on the child and the better the relationships between family members.

  • You may be interested in: "Family therapy: types and forms of application"


Childhood emotional neglect, even if not conscious or intentional, can damage a child's emotional health and self-esteem. Ignoring how the little one is feeling or downplaying his emotional distress can lead the child to internalize the idea that her emotions are not important. and that expressing them is not worth it. The consequences of this can be very profound and manifest for a lifetime, causing psychological wounds that are difficult to heal without the help of psychotherapy.

Boys and girls have emotional needs that are just as important as physiological ones. They need to feel heard and valued by their parents, no matter how old they are. Learning to manage your emotions and listen to those of others is something that should be part of the education of every family, and become something passed down from generation to generation. Children who were listened to by their parents will be adults who will listen to their own offspring.

Treatment for the effects of childhood emotional neglect can help youngsters manage their emotions, understand that they deserve to be heard, and overcome feelings of emptiness. On the other hand, it also serves to teach parents to relate better with their children and value how they feel, understanding that even if there is no mistreatment or abuse, emotional neglect can be very painful for children. little ones.

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