The Educator's Role in Reporting the Emotional Abuse of Children

By Romeo, Felicia F. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, September 2000 | Go to article overview

The Educator's Role in Reporting the Emotional Abuse of Children


Romeo, Felicia F., Journal of Instructional Psychology


Educators are mandated to report suspected child abuse to authorities. They learn to identify behavioral indicators of physical/sexual abuse and neglect but receive less information regarding emotional abuse. Emotional abuse consists of "internal" injuries and is more difficult to identify. Emotionally abused children are not as likely to be reported and do not receive the psychological services necessary for emotional healing and growth. Emotional abuse can be more dangerous to the child's welfare than other forms of abuse, as it negatively affects the child's self-esteem and self-image, causing devastating, life-long consequences. This article provides educators with information regarding behavioral indicators of emotional abuse, relationship of emotional abuse to the child's self-esteem and self-image, and the life-long consequences of emotional abuse.

The Educator's Role

Everyday, across our nation, educators report their reasonable suspicions of child abuse to their Child Abuse Hotlines. They attend in-service seminars to learn to identify the behavioral indicators of child abuse. However, most in-service programs devote more attention to the behavioral indicators of physical/sexual abuse and neglect rather than emotional abuse. One explanation for this is that the behavioral indicators of physical/sexual abuse and neglect are external and easily visible injuries. However, the behavioral indicators of emotional abuse, particularly the symptoms of children who respond to the abuse in passive ways, are more difficult to identify. Only 4% of all substantiated cases of child abuse are reported as emotional abuse. (Wood, 1999)

Also, since educators receive less information concerning emotional abuse at in-service programs, they may wrongly conclude that emotional abuse is not as serious an offense against children as other forms of abuse. However, emotional abuse can be even more dangerous to the child's welfare, as it affects the child's self-concept, thus having devastating and life-long consequences.

The Emotional Environment of the Family

The emotional environment of the family is critical to the child's development of self-esteem and self-image. In the emotionally healthy family, the child feels loved and wanted, as the parents' approval and acceptance, encourages the child to bond and form a secure attachment with each parent. As a result of the parents' loving and positive interactions with the child, they convey their belief to the child that he/she is a "good" and "valued" member of the family. Consequently, the child develops positive self-esteem, as one who has "worth," and a positive self-image, as one who is "good."

In the emotionally abusive family, the child feels unloved and unwanted. The parents consistently reject the child and the child's behavior. The emotionally abusive parent will also encourage others to reject and ridicule the child. The emotional family environment is "cold," as the parents do not express nor show any affection, support or guidance toward the child. The child is deprived of the psychological nurturing necessary for a child's psychological growth and development. Emotional abuse is not just a single event, but a systematic diminishment of the victim. It is a continuous behavior by the abuser that reduces a child's self-concept to the point were the child feels unworthy of respect, friendship, love and affection.

The parental abuses consist of: unrealistic expectations of the child's behavior, repeated name calling (no good, rotten, ugly, stupid, crazy), and deliberate humiliation in front of others (teachers, siblings, relatives, friends). All children inherently trust and love their parents and seldom complain directly about emotional abuse. They lack the reasoning ability to realistically challenge their parents' attacks upon their self-esteem. They may think that this is the normal way of life. Unfortunately, the child accepts and regards the demeaning statements of the parents as "true" and "accurate" reflections of their own self-worth. …

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