Signs of Emotionally Abused Toddlers

By Sara Ipatenco
Emotional abuse damages a child's self-esteem.
Emotional abuse damages a child's self-esteem.

As you look at your precious angels, you can't imagine ever hurting them on purpose. Yes, even when they're acting more like monsters than cherubs. It's a sad fact though that millions of children are the victims of abuse each year, and emotional abuse is one type that's a little harder to recognize than the bruises that go along with physical abuse. If you suspect that a child in your life is being emotionally abused, be on the lookout for certain signs that you're suspicions are true, and contact your child's pediatrician and report the abuse immediately. You can remain anonymous, but protecting the child from further abuse is essential.


Emotional abuse is the mistreatment of a child using mean words or the withholding of love. Adults that emotionally abuse a child criticize the child's actions and failures and also use a great deal of rude words to make the child feel bad about herself. Sarcasm, intimidation, domination and threats are also forms of emotional abuse. Specific examples include punishing a child for normal behavior such as playing or singing, having high expectations that a child can't possibly achieve followed by criticism when she fails and the constant use of mean words.

Physical Signs

A toddler that's being emotionally abused might complain of headaches or stomachaches on a regular basis, according to While these aren't caused by an underlying medical disorder, they are very real symptoms. A toddler who is afraid of his parent or who doesn't feel safe and secure can develop true headaches or stomachaches. Other physical complaints, such as chest pain, are possible with emotional abuse, too.

Behavioral Signs

There are far more behavioral signs that can suggest emotional abuse. A toddler that suddenly tries to avoid social situations with peers, such as not wanting to go to daycare or preschool is one behavioral change that can occur with emotional abuse. Toddlers that are desperately looking for attention from adults other than their parents might not be getting the positive attention they need at home. If a toddler suddenly has a lack of self-esteem or confidence might also be being emotionally abused. Excessive fear, anxiety, poor behavior or lack of attachment to a parent, as well as infantile behavior such as sucking a thumb, are additional behavioral signs that a child could be experiencing emotional abuse.

Signals From the Abuser

Watching interactions between an adult and a toddler can also provide signs that emotional abuse is happening. According to the article, "Child Abuse and Neglect" by Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D on the Help Guide website, if an adult regularly belittles or humiliates a toddler, he is being emotionally abusive. Be on the lookout for an adult calling a toddler names, comparing her negatively to other toddlers, ignoring her, giving her the silent treatment or withholding hugs, kisses and other signs of affection. These are also warning signs that an adult may be emotionally abusing a toddler.

About the Author

Sara Ipatenco has taught writing, health and nutrition. She started writing in 2007 and has been published in Teaching Tolerance magazine. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education, both from the University of Denver.