BlogHealth and Wellness for Kids15 Signs of Childhood Emotional Neglect and How to Deal with it

15 Signs of Childhood Emotional Neglect and How to Deal with it

Childhood emotional neglect is a critical developmental impairment as it tells kids that their voices and feelings are invalid. Kids may often come up to their parents and share stories or express themselves, only to find themselves being ignored or being called too emotional. Neglect can also be unintentional if parents focus on an archaic parenting model or are too busy in their lives.

Childhood Emotional Neglect and Its Effects

Young child sitting alone watching birds

From a developmental psychology perspective, childhood emotional neglect—or CEN—is the result of the chronic unavailability of parents in a child’s life. Kids can experience abandonment, distress, and aloofness because of not having their parents actively present in their lives.

Often, parents are stressed during the early years of a child’s development, which can lead them to be disconnected from their child’s complex emotional needs. This can lead to a nearly complete lack of emotional support, along with a lack of understanding of a child’s emotional outbursts.

The effects of long-term emotional neglect can manifest in several ways, which is why it is important to be mindful of your parenting styles. Kids can feel emotionally empty, disconnected, and disinterested over time, which can significantly impair their adult lives. The critical developmental pathways in the brain that rely on emotional comfort can be impacted as well.

Related Reading: Interesting Social-Emotional Learning Activities for Classroom

15 Signs of Childhood Emotional Neglect

Child crying on his fathers shoulder

Understanding these 15 signs of emotional neglect is critical to becoming a better parent who is more open and aware of their children’s needs.

SplashLearn: Most Comprehensive Learning Program for PreK-5

SplashLearn inspires lifelong curiosity with its game-based PreK-5 learning program loved by over 40 million children. With over 4,000 fun games and activities, it’s the perfect balance of learning and play for your little one.

Try for free

1. Easily overwhelmed in situations

Kids have a natural sense of exploration of their surroundings. When children are neglected for extensive periods, they can feel easily overwhelmed in different situations. Places that are foreign to them can give them a sense of anxiousness and instability, which is a key sign of a need for comfort.

2. Outbursts of anger and frustration

Your kids may express anger and frustration over mundane things if they have been neglected over a period. They can also get emotionally triggered if they don’t get their way. This could be a sign of emotional neglect that has manifested itself in emotional outbursts.   

3. Inability to self-discipline

Emotional neglect during childhood can lead to a lack of self-discipline or motivation to do things. If you find that your kids are disconnecting from their daily routine, homework, and schoolwork, then it is important to identify this sign quickly. You can also self-assess how much time you spend with your kids and talk to them about their emotions.

4. Difficulty trusting new people

A classic example of neglect in childhood is difficulty trusting people. If you find that your kids take much longer to trust others, then they may have a deeper-rooted challenge with opening up. You can talk to your kids about their feelings so that they’re more accepting of trusting new people in their lives.

5. Physical manifestations of emotional pain

If your child constantly experiences pain, fever, knots in their stomach, and other ailments, then there could be an emotionally driven reason behind it. These symptoms could be more apparent in specific scenarios, such as visiting a relative, attending school, meeting friends, etc. It is important to track physical manifestations as they could detrimentally impact your child’s development.

Related Reading: Empathy vs Sympathy: How to Raise an Empathetic Child

6. Disassociating from affection

Extensive periods of neglect can lead to a disconnect or disgust with emotional connection. If you find that your children become uncomfortable with you hugging them or praising them, then there may be a sense of neglect in their minds. If you find that they’re disassociating from you emotionally, then it is important to address that immediately.

7. Lower self-esteem

Children who have experienced extended emotional neglect can experience lower esteem, which can also impact their ability to feel joy in everyday life. They can find it harder to participate in class, establish boundaries, and be more open with other kids. Lower self-esteem can also impact their sense of wonder and make them more aloof in social situations.

8. Significant fear of rejection

While we all have an innate fear of isolation and rejection, kids who are neglected may feel it at a higher intensity. This could impact their outlook towards life and taking advantage of opportunities. Your children can feel insecure when left alone and experience bouts of crying when they’re starting off school.

9. Poor performance at school

Kids who experience emotional neglect over time can experience difficulties with focusing and paying attention in school. It is important to identify this sign quickly and know if your unavailability impacts their quality of life at school. You can also talk to their teachers to know how they behave in class.

10. Difficulty in self-expression

Different forms of self-expression, such as talking, singing, painting, and dancing, may be more difficult for kids who have experienced neglect. Self-expression can be a key challenge to the point of being emotionally draining for some kids. Your children can also experience fear when trying to express their thoughts.

Related Reading: Best Positive Affirmations for Kids to Improve Confidence & Belief

11. Speaking in a cold tone

This is a clear sign of distrust that should be identified quickly. Kids often speak coldly if they feel like their thoughts and feelings don’t matter to their parents. Your child may choose to speak coldly throughout all conversations, at which point it is even more challenging to develop emotional connections.

12. Developmental delays

If your child is developmentally delayed in terms of performance at school, basic motor skills, and problem-solving abilities, then they may need a different parenting style. You can focus on empowering your child through the right emotional support system and be more present in their life.

13. Disruptive behaviors

Children who experience long-term childhood emotional neglect can start to cause disruptions in everyday lives as a means of expression. They can cause fights, destroy property, and create chaos in otherwise calm situations. You can speak to your child about their feelings to help them when they’re distraught.

14. Chronic guilt

Your child can feel guilty all the time and outwardly show signs of deep guilt. When confronted, they may resort to tantrums and outbursts at an older age as well. You can identify this critical sign and assure them that you’re emotionally available for them.

15. Inability to experience empathy

A serious sign of emotional neglect is the lack of empathy. If your child doesn’t display empathy toward others experiencing pain, whether toward people or animals, then you should intervene. This could be a critical sign of emotional neglect, which can manifest itself in the form of a lack of empathy.

Related Reading: Compassionate Vs. Empathetic – Why Both Are Important for Kids

Understanding Parents Who Tend to Emotionally Neglect Children

Sad child standing in the foreground as a parent sits in the background looking at her

Alt text: Sad child standing in the foreground as a parent sits in the background looking at her

While there isn’t a single mold that neglectful parents can fit into, there are specific types of parents that may be neglectful. It is important to note that some parents can work on their parenting styles over time and learn from the shortcomings of their own childhood.

Neglected Parents

If you are a parent who has gone through emotional neglect in your own childhood, then the likelihood that you’re neglectful is higher. You may be carrying many of the parenting strategies from your own childhood forward, which could be detrimental to your kids.

Emotional neglect in childhood can be the basis of an impaired relationship, which would have to be mended over time. If you are aware of the signs of emotional neglect in a child, then you can act quickly and reverse the trend.

Authoritarian Parents

If you’re an authoritarian parent, then you have a strict code of discipline within the household. You have a specific schedule for your children, with daily goals and a standard of behavior within the home that can’t be questioned.

The negative aspect of that dynamic is that your child may feel neglected if they’re constantly told to put their emotions aside. If you’re unable to spend quality time with your kids and talk to them about their feelings, then authoritarianism may not be the right approach, as it can lead to long-term emotional neglect.

Absent Parents

Parents who are emotionally or physically unavailable for their children may be causing childhood neglect over time. They may miss out on critical emotional neglect examples in their kids’ behavioral patterns.

If you’re an absentee parent, then the best way to shift your focus is to reprioritize time spent with your children. Also, if you closely understand the signs of emotional neglect in a child, then you can shift your perspective and change your parenting style.

Related Reading: Best Positive Reinforcement Tips For Teachers & Parents

4 Ways to Help Your Child Heal From and Overcome Emotional Neglect

A child hugging his parents

It can take a significant amount of time to know the signs of emotional neglect and to help your family overcome them to nurture development. It is critical to identify emotional neglect examples in your child’s behavioral patterns and to find the right parenting style that helps them feel cherished.

While the healing process is long, there are steps that can be taken immediately. If you want to make your child feel loved, appreciated, and actively acknowledged, you can start by reviewing your own parenting ethos. There may be cognitive gaps in how you think about your child’s problems and how you address them.

1. Identifying the signs of emotional neglect

The primary step toward the healing pathway is to know the right signs. If you can identify signs such as disconnecting, depression, anxiety, lack of joy, and angry outbursts, then you can help your child the right way.

Additionally, it is important to identify when your child experiences these types of emotions. If they are constantly withdrawing or are unable to initiate a conversation, then you may have to intervene and change your parenting approach. Knowing whether the signs are short or longer-term is critical. 

2. Knowing the role of emotions

What is important as well is a concrete understanding of the role of emotions in our lives. Often, emotionally neglectful parents don’t understand the value of childhood emotional development. They may have experienced emotional neglect as a child and are unable to comprehend its impact in their adult lives.

By fully understanding and accepting that emotions are paramount, you can begin the process of healing and help your child overcome neglect. Childhood neglect can be identified sooner if you’re equipped with the right information through counseling, therapy, and parenting literature.

3. Acknowledgement of the child’s needs

It is not enough to be aware of a child’s needs, as you need to actively acknowledge their need for attention, love, understanding, etc. Being there for your kids is paramount to their emotional development so that they can form peer bonds and feel protected.

The need for comforting and physical affection is coded in every human being across the world, and kids need it the most during their early years. Acknowledging and acting upon their needs can help them develop into emotionally stable and productive adults over time.

4. Shifting parenting styles and approaches

Childhood emotional neglect can manifest itself in several ways, which is why you need a parenting style that is evolved, loving, and actively aware of your child’s needs. You can be emotionally aware of your child’s needs and give them the right attention and affection they require daily.

You can also opt for therapy and parenting classes, wherein you can understand the nuances and impact of emotional neglect. You can fully understand the idea of “what is emotional neglect?” and act correctly when identifying the signs of it.

Knowing the Difference: Emotional Neglect vs. Emotional Abuse

Child disassociating from conversation

It’s important to understand the differences between neglect and abuse, as they are distinct from one another in their intention and the harm caused. When it comes to emotional abuse, there is a stronger intentional direction, tonality, and action prevalent.

If you’re an emotionally abusive parent, then you may hurl insults, intentionally make your kids feel bad, and treat their emotional needs poorly. This can manifest itself in different ways, wherein the child feels constantly bullied, and their self-worth is non-existent.

The right way ahead is to understand that your actions may be emotionally abusive and to stop furthering the parenting style immediately. It is best to opt for counseling and to ensure that your child is protected from emotional abuse permanently. Knowing the difference between emotional neglect and emotional abuse can also help significantly.  

Related Reading: Best Extracurricular Activities for Kids

Conclusion: Nurture Childhood Development with the Right Support System

Parents teaching a child to ride a bike

We’ve explored the concept of childhood emotional neglect extensively, and it is time for you to act positively. By knowing your shortcomings, understanding your kids’ needs, and providing them with the right love and care actively, you can transform their lives. You can set them up for a lifetime of success and happiness by being there for them regularly. Ask yourself, “What is emotional neglect?” and you may find yourself on the path to healing.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is there a test to detect neglect in children?

There are several CEN tests available, and it is best to consult with a psychologist to get a scientific assessment.

Is childhood neglect considered trauma in developmental psychology?

Emotional neglect in childhood can be considered a form of trauma if left unaddressed for several developmental years.

How do I know if I was emotionally neglected as a child?

There are several signs, such as feelings of detachment, lack of peer group, dissociative inclinations, and difficulty in being emotionally present.

What are the types of childhood neglect that I should be aware of?

Emotional, medical, physical, and educational neglect are the most important forms of neglect you should be aware of.

Ursula Cruz
Ursula Cruz writes on the subject of integration of technology in classrooms and the intersection of education and child development. In her free time, she likes going on hikes with her dog, Lucy.