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Children's Health Channel
Reported July 31, 2012

Psychological Abuse Comparable to Physical Abuse in Kids

(Ivanhoe Newswire) – Child abuse experts say that psychological abuse in young children can be just as damaging to their physical, mental and emotional health as a slap, punch, or kick.

As the most challenging and prevalent form of child abuse and neglect, psychological abuse encompasses acts such as belittling, denigrating, terrorizing, exploiting, emotional unresponsiveness, or corrupting a child to the point where their well-being is put at risk.

Dr. Harriet MacMillan, a professor in the departments of psychiatry and behavioral neurosciences and pediatrics of McMaster University's Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine and the Offord Centre for Child Studies, was quoted as saying, "We are talking about extremes and the likelihood of harm, or risk of harm, resulting from the kinds of behavior that make a child feel worthless, unloved or unwanted," she said, after providing the example of a mother leaving her infant alone in a crib all day or a father involving his teenager in his drug habit.

Psychological abuse does not include a parent raising their voice to remind their child to do something for the eighth time, "But, yelling at a child every day and giving the message that the child is a terrible person, and that the parent regrets bringing the child into this world, is an example of a potentially very harmful form of interaction," Macmillan was quoted as saying.

Psychological abuse is under-recognized and under-reported, yet its effects can be as harmful as other types of mistreatment. Psychological mistreatment can interfere with a child’s development path, and abuse has been connected to disorders of attachment, developmental and educational problems, socialization problems and disruptive behavior.

"The effects of psychological maltreatment during the first three years of life can be particularly profound."

Psychological mistreatment occurs in many different families, but is more prevalent in homes with multiple stresses, such as family conflict, mental health problems, physical violence, depression, or substance abuse.

Though there are few studies reporting the frequency of psychological abuse, large population-based, self-report studies in Britain and the United States found that an estimated eight to nine percent of women and four percent of men reported exposure to severe psychological abuse during childhood. The statement says pediatricians need to be aware of the possibility of psychological abuse even though there is little evidence on potential strategies that might help them identify it. The report suggests that collaboration among pediatric, psychiatric and child protective service professionals is critical for helping the child at risk.

Source: Pediatrics, July 2012

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