In our culture, we think of abuse as only being physical, however, an equally damaging form of abuse is emotional abuse, which takes away the self-esteem and the self-value of a child. The silent abuse that forever impacts the way an adult relates intimately to his or her environment. This mental and emotional damage can never be fully repaired and though neglect is silent, it is just as virulent.

Children of neglect and emotional abuse operate differently from both their siblings and friends. They are often difficult children; sometimes premature, and sickly. As a result, they usually have colic, cry a lot, and tend to create anxiety in their parents. Young families especially are unable to cope.

When abused children enter the school scenario, they are abusive themselves. Even their play indicates aggressive behavior. These children are easily recognized as they avoid other children; approach adults in a lateral way; demand attention; and display a whole range of needy behavior. In fact, abused children learn at an early age, not to trust adults. Furthermore, they feel diminished and discounted, which often creates the need for self-punishment.

These are the children that pull out their hair, bite their nails, wet their beds, and talk incessantly. Children of neglect and emotional abuse display a generalized anger and rage. Moreover, their need for attention – even negative attention – can reach unreasonable heights. Frequently, one parent becomes the prime abuser – the other, the enabler. Sometimes these children display the very characteristics and traits that their parents identify with themselves and, therefore, find disquieting. Or the child might resemble a disliked relative, and as a result, bring out the worst in his parents. Occasionally, the abused or neglected child is the scapegoat for the entire family. Consequently, splitting occurs, and this child can become the outcast.

When children are mistreated in this way, they are so emotionally deprived that they develop characteristics of low self-esteem. They then under value themselves and others. Since they feel like failures, and feel isolated, they often gravitate to the punishing patterns that they are used to.

Emotional abuse is on the rise because it leaves no physical marks. Yet the emotional damage is profound. In essence, each victim loses some percentage of capacity, and therefore, not only do they become under-achievers, but they actually expect to fail. Moreover, abused children may follow the model of abuse and become abusing parents. It is in this way that abuse becomes cross-generational.

In the final analysis, there are many ways to intervene and prevent emotional abuse. One answer is in finding sensitive and trained caregivers who can help parents of at-risk children, from the moment of birth. Such programs are in effect in England. When at-risk children are born in England, they are accompanied home by an on staff counselor who stays in touch with the parents for six months. Other remedies include group counseling which can occur using the model of Alcoholics Anonymous, where the support of a meaningful person can be engaged to help. Other surrogates, lay persons who can visit and be empathetic, can often head off problems, before they start. Task forces and child protection services can also intervene in emotional abuse, as well as friends, doctors, teachers, and other professionals. Self-help and self-reference can also alter the perception of the abused, allowing them to develop their own standards of behavior. By not investing in the strategies of the abuser, the victim of abuse can alter and break the pattern. Educating and remediating parents and children to discover alternative ways of interacting offers the greatest opportunity for social and emotional well being, in our schools and in our homes.

Finally, it is important to recognize that abusive parents can be rehabilitated and the cycle of abuse stopped. The solution may be simpler than we think. It really does take a village to raise a child and we all must invest in the capital of our future – our children.


  • Dr. Gail Gross

    Author and Parenting, Relationships, and Human Behavior Expert

    Dr. Gail Gross, Ph.D., Ed.D., M.Ed., a member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and member of APA Division 39, is a nationally recognized family, child development, and human behavior expert, author, and educator. Her positive and integrative approach to difficult issues helps families navigate today’s complex problems. Dr. Gross is frequently called upon by national and regional media to offer her insight on topics involving family relationships, education, behavior, and development issues. A dependable authority, Dr. Gross has contributed to broadcast, print and online media including CNN, the Today Show, CNBC's The Doctors, Hollywood Reporter, FOX radio, FOX’s The O’Reilly Factor, MSNBC, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, Times of India, People magazine, Parents magazine, Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine, USA Today, Univision, ABC, CBS, and KHOU's Great Day Houston Show. She is a veteran radio talk show host as well as the host of the nationally syndicated PBS program, “Let’s Talk.” Also, Dr. Gross has written a semi-weekly blog for The Huffington Post and has blogged at since 2013. Recently, Houston Women's Magazine named her One of Houston's Most Influential Women of 2016. Dr. Gross is a longtime leader in finding solutions to the nation’s toughest education challenges. She co-founded the first-of-its kind Cuney Home School with her husband Jenard, in partnership with Texas Southern University. The school serves as a national model for improving the academic performance of students from housing projects by engaging the parents. Dr. Gross also has a public school elementary and secondary campus in Texas that has been named for her. Additionally, she recently completed leading a landmark, year-long study in the Houston Independent School District to examine how stress-reduction affects academics, attendance, and bullying in elementary school students, and a second study on stress and its effects on learning. Such work has earned her accolades from distinguished leaders such as the Dalai Lama, who presented her with the first Spirit of Freedom award in 1998. More recently, she was honored in 2013 with the Jung Institute award. She also received the Good Heart Humanitarian Award from Jewish Women International, Perth Amboy High School Hall of Fame Award, the Great Texan of the Year Award, the Houston Best Dressed Hall of Fame Award, Trailblazer Award, Get Real New York City Convention's 2014 Blogging Award, and Woman of Influence Award. Dr. Gross’ book, The Only Way Out Is Through, is available on Amazon now and offers strategies for life’s transitions including coping with loss, drawing from dealing with the death of her own daughter. Her next book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, is also available on Amazon now and teaches parents how to enhance their child’s learning potential by understanding and recognizing their various development stages. And her first research book was published by Random House in 1987 on health and skin care titled Beautiful Skin. Dr. Gross has created 8 audio tapes on relaxation and stress reduction that can be purchased on Most recently, Dr. Gross’s book, The Only Way Out is Through, was named a Next Generation Indie Book Awards Silver Medal finalist in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the categories of Death & Dying as well as Grief. Her latest book, How to Build Your Baby’s Brain, was the National Parenting Product Awards winner in 2019, the Nautilus Book Awards winner in 2019, ranked the No. 1 Best New Parenting Book in 2019 and listed among the Top 10 Parenting Books to Read in 2020 by BookAuthority, as well as the Next Generation Indie Book Awards Gold Medal winner in 2020 and Winner of the 2021 Independent Press Awards in the category of How-To. Dr. Gross received a BS in Education and an Ed.D. (Doctorate of Education) with a specialty in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Houston. She earned her Master’s degree in Secondary Education with a focus on Psychology from the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Dr. Gross received her second PhD in Psychology, with a concentration in Jungian studies. Dr. Gross was the recipient of Kappa Delta Pi An International Honor Society in Education. Dr. Gross was elected member of the International English Honor Society Sigma Tau Delta.