Signs of Emotional Abuse

For more information on emotional abuse and its effect on children, click here.

Knowing the signs of emotional abuse can help give a voice to children. Any child can be a victim of emotional abuse, although some may be more vulnerable than others. When families go through a tough time (e.g. experiencing relationship problems, financial hardship, poverty, mental health issues, addiction to drugs or alcohol), parents or carers may struggle to maintain a loving home for their child.

Some signs of emotional abuse might be mistaken for ‘normal’ teenage behaviour, and it can be difficult to tell if a child is being emotionally abused. As is the nature of emotional abuse, children may not understand they are being abused and may not talk about it, so it is important to look out for signs in how a child is acting.

Signs of emotional abuse include:

  • Lack of confidence and self-esteem
  • Difficulties controlling emotions
  • Extreme behaviour, like becoming overly demanding, aggressive, having outbursts, or becoming passive
  • Difficulties making and maintaining relationships
  • Behaviour that is inappropriately infantile or adult-like
  • Persistent running away from home or being missing from school
  • Anxiety, unhappiness or withdrawal
  • Having few or no friends
  • Seeming to be isolated from parents/family
  • Lack social skills
  • Self-harm or attempts at suicide
  • Babies or toddlers might not have a close relationship or bond with their parent(s)
  • Babies or toddles might be overly affectionate with strangers

Click here for NSPCC’s guidance and information on emotional abuse.


If you are concerned about a child, please contact Front Door For Families on 01273 290400, FrontDoorForFamilies@brighton-hove.gov.uk, or use their Online Referral Form.

If a child is in immediate danger, you should contact the police by calling 999.