Children who experience parental verbal abuse

Children who experience parental verbal abuse






Children look to their parents and often mimic their behaviors, using what they see their parents engage in to influence or justify their own behaviors or thoughts. Specifically, how parents interact with each other and their children can impact a child’s behaviors, thoughts, and later lifestyle. While many studies focus on the many issues associated with children exposed to parental violence, recent studies suggest negative outcomes for children who experience parental verbal abuse. These studies suggest that physical abuse from parents is not the only dangerous form of abuse; parents who verbally abuse their children also create developmental, social, and psychological problems within their children. Recent work also presents findings regarding changes in brain structure from parental verbal abuse. These findings point out that verbal abuse is more detrimental than previously thought, leading to physical changes rather than only emotional and psychological changes in the child and throughout their adolescents.





A majority of children experience a physical abuse from their parents, which affect the social, as well as, their psychological lives (Jenny, 2011). Physical abuse occurs when an individual, in this case a parent or guardian uses the threat of physical force or physical pain to intimidate a child. According to Zastrow and Kirst-Ashman (2010), physical abuse refers to non-accidental or intentional physical injury that ranges from minor injuries to severe fractures or even death. This implies that physical abuse is dangerous to the lives of children and other victims who may experience it. These arise as a result of beating, punching, biting, kicking, throwing, shaking, choking, hitting, stabbing, burning or otherwise what may be termed as harming a child inflicted by a parent, caregiver, or other individuals responsible for a child. Such harm is considered abuse in spite of whether the person responsible for the child had intentions of hurting the child. Thus, physical abuse is abusive whether physical damage or bruises occur or not. However, physical discipline including paddling is not regarded as abuse as long as it is logical and results to no bodily harm to the child (Giardino et al., 2010).

However, it has been noted that physical abuse is not the only form of abuse that can cause critical negative consequences for the child. Other forms include neglect, which refers to failure of a caregiver or parent to provide basic needs to the child. Physical neglect implies failure to give required shelter, food, clothing, or even lack of proper supervision. Medical neglect is the failure to give necessary mental or medical health treatment. Educational neglect is failure to attend to a child’s special education needs or failure to offer education to a child. On the other hand, emotional neglect is lack of attending to the child’s emotional needs or lack of providing psychological care such as love (Newton and Gerrits, 2011). Although some forms of neglect have to do with cultural factors influence, the welfare of the child in all aspects is essential. Practices of sexual abuse such as penetration, rape, sodomy, incest exposure, fondling of a child’s genitals and exploitation may form part of physical abuse. Other forms of abuse that affect the child are substance abuse, abandonment and emotional or psychological abuse that make the child feel rejected and threatened in family and society at large. These are also dangerous to the child.

It has been proven that physical abuse is not the only dangerous form of abuse for a child. Verbal abuse is common among children and has a lot of negative implication for the child’s present and future lives. Children depend on their caregivers, parents, or those who care for them or love them to tell them who they are. The developing self-esteem of a child is based on the beliefs and expectations of his or her parents. Children who are exposed to verbal abuse from their parents or guardians are susceptible to lowered confidence and poor self image within themselves. The more the persistence and earlier the verbal abuse, the higher the likelihood of impairing the child’s development academically, socially, and psychologically (Evans, 2010). Whether children are helped to establish a compassionate observer who helps them in handling frustrations, is highly a consequence of parental modeling and messaging. Verbal abuse significantly contributes to the development of an internal critic who incriminates a child during times of stress and frustration.

Verbal abuse also known as verbal aggression occurs when parents use body language or words to improperly criticize their children (Sturt, 2006). It frequently entails ‘putdowns’ and name-calling deliberated at making the victim (child) feel they are not worthy of respect or love, and that they do not have talent or ability. According to Sturt (2006), if the children happen to speak against the statements, they are told the criticisms were only a joke. The children may as well be told that no abuse is happening. Verbal abuse is dangerous because as it is frequently not seen as abuse, and hence it can carry on for long periods of time causing significant damaging effects to the child’s self-worth and self-esteem. Children who are victims of verbal abuse may fail to take advantages of chances that would develop their lives as they hold the belief that they are not worthy of those opportunities (Evans, 2010).

Some forms of verbal abuse include belittling, name-calling, insulting, and swearing. This is indirect criticism and hurts the child as the child hears these and keeps it in mind. Another type of verbal abuse is threatening or rejecting with abandonment. Such words such as “I wish you were never born or I should put you up for adoption’ may sound simple, but have significant implications for a child. This form of verbal abuse develops the reasoning that the child does not belong and is not needed in the family. Studies from various scholars have associated verbal aggression with physical aggression (Iwaniec, 2006). Thus, threatening bodily harm directed towards a child is dangerous because even if a parent does not act on violent threats, he or she makes the child fear and lose trust in the parent.

In addition, blaming or scape-goating makes a child think and feel like he or she is not a good person and deserves to be unhappy. This may include words such as “You are the reason why this family is in chaos”. Use of sarcasm that is making mocking remarks may appear as ways of avoiding direct criticism, but children are adequately perceptive to comprehend that they are being demeaned. Another form of verbal abuse, but which is indirect, has to do with berating of spouses (Iwaniec, 2006). Children who see or hear their parents abusing each other verbally are likely to become anxious or depressed, and to experience other interpersonal problems.

Verbal abuse is dangerous just as physical abuse, and causes psychological effects to children such as depression, anxiety, and mood disorders. Verbal abuse also causes developmental effects including poor brain development. Additionally, it brings about social effects including low self-esteem, difficulties in establishing relationships, and makes victims uncomfortable in groups of individuals. On the other hand, the physical effects of verbal abuse include brain changes such as white matter tract abnormalities and gray matter volume increases in superior temporal gyrus. Other effects that fall under the four categories include delinquency, substance abuse, physical aggression, and social problems (Evans, 2010).

Psychological Effects

It is argued that verbal abuse leaves children forever changed. This implies that verbal abuse has both short and long-term effects. Among the psychological effects that victims of verbal abuse experience are depression, anxiety, and mood disorders. Depression refers to severe dejection that is followed by feelings of hopelessness among children. It is a situation of mental disturbance and has a lot of negative consequences on children on almost all aspects of life. Children who have been abused verbally are likely to feel depressed even in their later lives as studies have indicated. Although a majority of children feel depressed out of physical abuse, it is essential to note that verbal abuse contributes significantly in influencing depression among children. Additionally, children who are verbally abused also suffer from anxiety (Iwaniec, 2006). This arises out of fear that is created within them by their parents, which makes children to also feel insecure even in their own homes. Children become worried, nervous and are not at ease about events that may likely happen. Verbal abuse makes victims have mood disorders causing children to react differently on different situations. In most cases, the reactions that children portray are a result of low self-esteem that they are unable to control. This shows how dangerous verbal abuse can be in influencing behavior and reactions to different situations. Victims of verbal abuse get angry over minor issues and at the extreme become violent.

Developmental Effects

It has been proven that verbal abuse causes developmental effects on children. A child needs to feel loved and cared for at all times. Verbal abuse is one of the ways that children may feel that they are neither loved nor cared for by their parents. Children who experience physical and verbal abuse may feel untrusting, disregarded, powerless, and at times feel like they are a burden to their parents or guardians (Krumins, 2011). This influences their growth and development in that they may experience poor brain development. Poor brain development makes children perform poorly in all areas and especially in academics and social lives. Poor or strained brain development influences a child’s thinking and reasoning. In this case, children who are victims of verbal abuse are likely to have difficulties in logical thinking and reasoning as a result of poor brain development. At times, developmental effects of verbal abuse on children may be classified as psychological effects since the effects affect the psychological wellbeing of individuals. Poor brain development is likely to be exhibited even in later lives of victims of verbal abuse due to poor reasoning of individuals at all levels especially in discussions.

Social Effects

Some of the social effects caused by verbal abuse include low self-esteem, difficulties in establishing relationships. Verbal abuse also makes victims uncomfortable in groups of individuals including their peers (Krumins, 2011). Low self-esteem means that children do not feel as good as other children who have not been abused verbally, physically, or any other form of abuse. Children with self-esteem feel hopeless and think that they are not worthy. This starts right from the home where children who experience or have experienced verbal abuse feel that they do not belong to the family and cannot be appreciated. Low-self esteem affects children even in their social lives in that victims do not trust in themselves. This is what makes it hard for the victims to establish good and lasting relationships with other individuals. In fact, victims of verbal violence feel uncomfortable while in groups. They feel weak and do not think that they are able to contribute anything that will be appreciated by others.

Physical Effects

Physical abuse has significant physical effects on individuals. However, the physical effects that are a consequence of verbal abuse cannot be neglected. These include white matter tract abnormalities and gray matter volume increases in superior temporal gyrus. Victims of verbal abuse are exposed to higher risk of psychopathology, especially mood and anxiety disorders. Additionally, verbal abuse is associated with alteration of the structure of the brain. It causes traumatic events in children that are associated with alterations in the functional activity of regions of the brain (Krumins, 2011). This can have serious and dangerous damage to children.


Physical abuse is dangerous for children in their present and later lives. This is because it causes considerable negative effects to their lives. However, it is not physical abuse alone that is dangerous for children. Rather, verbal abuse has been proven to be dangerous, as well. This is explained in the adverse social, developmental, psychological, and physical effects that are associated with verbal aggression towards children. Therefore, it is high time that people consider verbal abuse as dangerous form of abuse since it is not regarded as abusive, but has dangerous consequences on children. The different forms of verbal aggression should be considered as dangerous and actions taken to ensure that these are dealt with appropriately to avoid the negative effects on children as they belong to society. Children also need to know that this is abusive and should report this when it is necessary. Therefore, it is clear that it is not only physical abuse that is dangerous, but also verbal abuse, as Well.


Jenny, C. (2011). Child abuse and neglect: Diagnosis, treatment, and evidence. St. Louis, Mo: Saunders/Elsevier.

Zastrow, C., & Kirst-Ashman, K. K. (2010). Understanding human behavior and the social environment. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole Cengage Learning.

Giardino, A. P., Lyn, M. A., & Giardino, E. R. (2010). A practical guide to the evaluation of child physical abuse and neglect. New York: Springer.

Newton, S., & Gerrits, J. (2011). Child abuse. St. Catharines, Ont: Crabtree Pub. Co.

Sturt, S. M. (2006). Child abuse: New research. New York: Nova Science Publishers.

Evans, P. (2010). The verbally abusive relationship: How to recognize it and how to respond. Avon, Mass: Adams Media.

Iwaniec, D. (2006). The Emotionally Abused and Neglected Child: Identification, Assessment and Intervention: A Practice Handbook. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.

Krumins, I. (2011). The Detrimental Effects of Emotional Abuse: Emotional Abuse Is the Foundation of All Other Abuses, the Worse Being Elder Abuse. Authorhouse.

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