Psychological abuse to kids as damaging as physical attack

Bullying and calling names can be as damaging to a young child’s physical, mental and emotional health as a slap, punch or kick, a new study has found.

The study looked at the effects of verbal abuse and found it can be just as harmful to a child’s development as a physical attack.

According to an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) report on psychological maltreatment in journal Pediatrics, psychological abuse may be the most challenging and prevalent form of child abuse and neglect.

“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 interaction,” said Dr Harriet MacMillan, McMaster University’s Michael G DeGroote School of Medicine and the Offord Centre for Child Studies.

“We are talking about extremes and the likelihood of harm, or risk of harm, resulting from the kinds of behaviour that make a child feel worthless, unloved or unwanted,” MacMillan said.

Psychological abuse was described in the scientific literature more than 25 years ago, but it has been under-recognised and under-reported, MacMillan said, adding that its effects “can be as harmful as other types of maltreatment.”

The report says that because psychological maltreatment interferes with a child’s development path, the abuse has been linked with disorders of attachment, developmental and educational problems, socialisation problems and disruptive behaviour.

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

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