CHILDHOOD EMOTIONAL NEGLECT: 13 Common Symptoms In Children & Remedies

Childhood emotional neglect

Childhood emotional neglect occurs when parents or caregivers fail to respond to a child’s emotional needs. This form of neglect can have long-term implications as well as short-term, practically immediate ones.

Understanding why childhood emotional neglect occurs is critical for parents, teachers, caregivers, and others. It is also beneficial to understand the symptoms, how to test for it, and what can be done to fix it or assist a child in overcoming it.
Continue reading to see why this happens during childhood and what its implications are for adults.

What Is Childhood Emotional Neglect?

Childhood emotional neglect happens when a child’s parent or parents fail to respond effectively to their child’s emotional needs. Emotional neglect is not always the same as emotional abuse in childhood. Abuse is often intentional; it is a deliberate choice to act in a hurtful manner. While childhood emotional neglect can be willful disrespect for a child’s feelings, it can simply be a failure to act or notice a child’s emotional needs. Parents who emotionally ignore their children may nonetheless offer care and requirements. Hence, they simply miss out on or mishandle this one critical area of assistance.

A child who tells their parent they are sorry about a school friend is an indication of emotional neglect. Instead of listening and assisting the child, the parent dismisses it as a child’s game. Over time, the child learns that their emotional needs are unimportant. Consequently, they cease looking for help.

The consequences of childhood emotional neglect can be fairly subtle. It may be difficult for parents to realize they are doing it. Similarly, it may be difficult for caregivers, such as doctors or teachers, to identify the minor signs. Severe cases are easy to detect and may garner the most attention. So, less severe ones may be neglected.

Understanding the symptoms of emotional neglect in children might help the child and parents obtain help.

Examples of Emotional Neglect

Childhood emotional neglect by caregivers can manifest in the following ways:

  • Emotional unavailability: Caregivers might be emotionally distant, unresponsive, unavailable, or rejecting, making it difficult for children to connect with them emotionally.
  • Ignoring or dismissing feelings: Caregivers who emotionally neglect children may ignore, belittle, or dismiss their feelings by telling them to “stop crying” or “toughen up.”
  • Absence of affection: Emotional neglect can involve a lack of physical affection, such as hugs, kisses, or soothing touch.
  • Inadequate attention: Neglectful caregivers may fail to meet a child’s emotional needs, such as listening to their concerns, offering comfort in times of sadness, or celebrating their achievements.
  • Failure to validate: Emotional neglect may also appear as a failure to validate a child’s experiences and emotions. For example, a child who is bullied at school may not receive validation or support from their caregiver.
  • Lack of encouragement: Neglectful caregivers may fail to encourage a child’s interests, talents, or passions, lowering the child’s self-esteem and self-worth.

What are the Symptoms of Childhood Emotional Neglect?

Symptoms of childhood emotional neglect can range from mild to glaring. At first, much of the damage caused by emotional neglect is silent. However, the impacts may begin to manifest over time.

The following are the most common symptoms of childhood emotional neglect:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • apathy
  • failure to thrive
  • hyperactivity
  • aggression
  • developmental lags
  • poor self-esteem
  • substance abuse
  • distancing from friends and activities
  • appearing careless or indifferent
  • avoiding emotional closeness or intimacy

How Can Childhood Emotional Neglect Affect Adults?

People who are emotionally neglected as children grow up to be adults who must deal with the repercussions. Because their emotional needs were not recognized as children, they may not know how to deal with their emotions when they arise.

The following are some of the most common adult consequences of childhood neglect:

  • PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)
  • depression
  • emotional unavailability
  • raising the chances of developing an eating problem
  • avoiding closeness
  • feeling severely defective, personally
  • feeling emptied
  • a lack of self-discipline
  • Shame and guilt
  • rage and aggressive behavior
  • trouble trusting others or relying on anyone else

Adults who were emotionally neglected as children may become parents who emotionally neglect their children. They may not know how to cultivate emotions in their children because they have never learned the value of their own emotions.

So, effective treatment and understanding their personal experiences of neglect can help adults and children overcome the effects of emotional neglect in the short term and prevent future issues.

Read Also: Power Struggle: How to deal with it in Relationships

What are the Remedies for the Impacts Of Childhood Emotional Neglect?

Treatment for childhood emotional neglect is likely to be the same whether experienced as a child or as an adult who was mistreated as a child. So, among the treatment options are:

#1. Therapy

A psychologist or therapist can assist a child in learning to cope with their emotions in a healthy manner. If a child usually conceal their feelings, it may be difficult for them to notice and experience emotions in a healthy manner.

Similarly, years of concealing emotions can lead to adult difficulties in expressing them. Therapists and mental health professionals can teach children and adults how to identify, accept, and express their emotions healthily.

#2. Family therapy

If a child is facing emotional neglect at home, family therapy can assist both the parents and the youngster. A therapist can assist parents in understanding the influence they are making. They can also assist a child in learning to cope with existing challenges. Early intervention may be able to change and correct the behaviors that contribute to neglect as well as the consequences that can occur.

#3. Parenting classes

Parents who ignore their child’s emotional needs may benefit from parenting programs. These classes teach parents and caregivers how to notice, listen to, and respond to their children’s emotions.


National Parent Helpline – Locate local and national resources for a variety of parenting issues.

Call your child’s doctor and inquire about local services that can assist you with parenting skills and emotional development.

Therapist— Make an appointment with a psychologist, social worker, or other mental health experts to discuss your issues.

What Factors May Contribute To Childhood Emotional Neglect?

As with the reasons for child abuse, the causes of neglect are varied and frequently difficult to comprehend. Most parents want to be the best parents they can be and do not want to ignore their child’s emotions.

Adults who neglect their children may experience:

  • depression
  • substance abuse
  • diseases of the mind
  • rage or animosity toward their child
  • a personal lack of emotional fulfillment
  • a history of parental neglect
  • a lack of healthy parenting abilities

Neglectful parents are usually raised in families where they were neglected as children. As a result, they may lack the parenting abilities needed to meet their child’s emotional requirements.

In certain circumstances, parents who emotionally ignore their children have emotionally mistreated themselves. Also, caregivers who do not have strong, emotionally rewarding relationships with adults in their own lives may be unable to respond effectively to their children.

Similarly, anger and resentment in a parent can cause them to dismiss their child’s pleadings and questions. Is there a way to test for this childhood emotional neglect? Let’s find out in the next section.

How Can You Test For Childhood Emotional Neglect?

There is no test that can detect childhood emotional neglect. Instead, a diagnosis may be made after symptoms have been detected and other issues have been ruled out.

During an appointment, a doctor, for example, might note a child’s failure to thrive or lack of emotional response. As part of caring for the child, they may note the parents’ lack of interest in their child’s health and well-being. Hence, this may assist them in connecting the dots between the physical symptoms and the invisible neglect.

Adults who were neglected as children may finally discover what is causing their issues. A therapist or mental health professional can assist you in examining the events of your childhood and the effects you are encountering today in order to identify the likely concerns.


If you are worried about a child you know, there are options available to assist you.

Family Services Agency – Your local child welfare or family services agency can follow up on a tip anonymously.

Pediatrician – If you know the child’s pediatrician, a phone call to that doctor’s office may be beneficial. Though privacy regulations would prevent them from verifying they treat the child, they may be able to use your information to initiate contact with the family.

Call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (800-422-4453). Emotional neglect may be accompanied by other types of neglect. This group can put you in touch with local resources to provide you the help you need.

Prevent Child Abuse America—This group promotes child well-being through initiatives that provide family assistance.

How to Heal from Childhood Emotional Neglect

Healing from childhood emotional neglect and other forms of trauma takes time, self-awareness, compassion, and, in many cases, professional help.

After acknowledging that they experienced childhood emotional neglect, it is crucial to learn and understand that healing takes time and that having complex emotions is normal.

People’s childhood experiences are not their fault, and it’s okay to feel the way they do.

People who are suffering severe emotional distress, depression, or anxiety that is interfering with their daily lives should speak with a mental health professional or doctor.

They can also consider consulting with a therapist or counselor, especially one who has experience with childhood trauma and neglect.

These professionals can assess a person’s health and provide appropriate treatment options, such as therapy, medication, or both. Therapy can give a safe place to discuss emotions, past experiences, and coping strategies.

What Happens When a Child Doesn’t Feel Loved?

Within the first several months of life, newborns often have a tight attachment link with their primary caregiver (usually their parents). They will not be able to form this deep attachment if they do not receive normal love and care. This can lead to a condition known as attachment disorder.

What Is Emotional Neglect?

Emotional neglect is a relationship pattern in which a significant other continuously disregards, ignores, invalidates, or ignores an individual’s affectional needs.

What Is an Emotionally Absent Parent?

Most people who have grown up with an unstable, violent, or emotionally unavailable parent experience emotional detachment as the parent’s failure to meet their deepest needs, relate to them, or provide support and comfort when required.


Childhood emotional neglect can harm a child’s self-esteem and emotional health. It tells children that their feelings are unimportant. The ramifications of this neglect can be severe and endure a lifetime.

Treatment for childhood emotional neglect can help neglected children overcome feelings of emptiness and inability to manage their emotions. Similarly, parents can learn to better bond with their children and break the cycle.

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