Verbal Abuse in Relationships Between Parents and Children

Verbal abuse is a form of emotional abuse and, unlike physical abuse, it is not easily seen or detected. Verbal abuse ranges from yelling obscenities to quiet put-downs. Parents use it to control their children, feel superior and mask their own inadequacies and failures. It tears down the child, and the effects on her emotional, social, cognitive and psychological development can be profound. The effects of verbal abuse are immediate as the child internalizes the pain 4. These effects often extend into adulthood.

Stunted Development

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics', belittling, ridiculing, disrespecting, relentlessly criticizing or calling your child names can interfere with her ability to function in society. The effects on her self-esteem and self-image make it increasingly difficult to relate to her peers and make friends. This can effect your child's happiness and success throughout life. Parents who verbally abuse their children are generally repeating the cycle of abuse, as they were often raised in this manner. They need to be made aware of the pain they are causing their children before they can attempt to put a stop to their verbally abusive behavior.


Domestic violence advocate Kellie Holly, of the Healthy Place website, states that verbal abuse causes fear in the child, but it is usually felt as anxiety or a general wish to flee from the abuser 4. He begins to distrust the abuser even when he is behaving in a kind, loving or compassionate way, as the child is unsure of how long it will last and knows it won't last. A child who is verbally abused may walk on eggshells around the abuser, watching for clues of what might set the abuser off. The abuse itself is stressful, and the watching and waiting for the next attack only compounds it.

Immediate Effects

Constant verbal attacks break a child's spirit and damage the bond between parent and child. The effects can range from mild to self-destructive. In severe cases, it is often difficult to repair the sense of self without psychiatric assistance. Children who are verbally abused have lost their sense of safety 4. This lack of security breeds lack of confidence and the ability to feel good about themselves. Verbally abused children may try to please their parents by becoming overly compliant, or they may rebel and defy all authority figures. Withdrawal and depression or anger and aggression may result in response to the verbal abuse.

Long-term Effects

Over time, a verbally abused child may become verbally abusive toward younger siblings. He may turn on his parents as he ages and verbally abuse them in retaliation. It's learned behavior, and unless the cycle is broken, it will likely be passed on from generation to generation. In an article published by Florida State University, Jill Elish cited Natalie Sachs-Ericsson, psychology professor at FSU, as saying that verbally abused people had 1.6 times as many symptoms of depression and anxiety as those who had not been verbally abused and also had double the chance to have suffered a mood or anxiety disorder 2. Adult survivors of verbal abuse may need to seek professional help to avoid affecting their own offspring.