“Psychological abuse—including demeaning, bullying, and humiliating—may be the most prevalent form of child maltreatment,” writes Laura Blue in a recent article in Time.com’s Healthland section. “Yet it’s among the hardest to identify or treat…. Psychological abuse, or emotional abuse, rarely gets the kind of attention that sexual or physical abuse receives.”

Blue writes about a recent American Association of Pediatrics position statement in the journal Pediatrics, in which three pediatricians encourage family doctors and child specialists to acquaint themselves with and watch for symptoms of psychological maltreatment.

Dr. Harriet MacMillan, one of the authors of the statement and a professor in the McMaster University's Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine and the Offord Centre for Child Studies' departments of psychiatry and behavioural neurosciences and pediatrics, is quoted as describing it thusly: “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 and her co-authors cite surveys in which 8 to 9 percent of women and 4 percent of men in the US and the UK reported suffering severe psychological abuse as children. Their research on population surveys and other surveys have led them to believe that “psychological maltreatment may be the most common form of abuse inflicted on kids,” reports Blue.

The authors urge health care professionals and social services staff to make sure they don’t base their judgment on any particular occurrences or events but instead look at the kind of relationship between a parent or guardian and the child in question. Still, some of the things mentioned in Time.com are “keeping the child in a constant state of fear,” “depriving a child of ordinary social interaction,” and encouraging kids to engage in illicit activities.” ScienceDaily.com mentioned that Dr. MacMillan specifically gave two examples: “a mother leaving her infant alone in a crib all day or a father involving his teenager in his drug habit.”

While you may not be guilty of purposefully harming your child, it’s still important to think long and hard about the impact your words and actions have on your kids. Is your behavior sending them the wrong messages? Are your comments, perhaps about their laziness or mischievousness, making them doubt their self-worth? While yelling at your kids in a moment of anger once in a while may not be considered child abuse, you still want to be wary of having it become a habit or of hitting them harder (verbally, not physically) than you intended.

Foster a good relationship with your child by making him feel that he is worthy of love and respect. Help him learn to deal with stress by unwinding at the end of the school day. Teach him to love himself for who he is and establish a relationship other than that of disciplinarian and child. And when you do need to discipline him, do it in ways that are constructive and character-building rather than those that are humiliating or belittling.

(Photo from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

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