Child Abuse is Wrong: What Can I Do?

Emotional abuse

Nora knew she had to speak to her sister, Irene, again. She could see that Irene's son Patrick was always on edge. His father, Sean, showed little interest in Patrick, except to criticize him. When it came to Patrick, the words "stupid" and "weakling" slid easily off Sean's tongue. Nothing Patrick could do would meet his father's standards. His school grades weren't high enough, his hockey game was poor, and his friends were lazy. On the other hand, their older son, Ryan, received nothing but praise. Nora wondered why her sister went along with this. Maybe Irene was too busy trying to meet her husband's expectations herself to see what was going on with her son. Patrick was either invisible or a problem. No wonder he was still wetting the bed! Nora had spoken to Irene, but her sister had quickly changed the subject. "It's not that serious," she had said. "Patrick needs to be tougher." Nora wondered how she could find the right words to break through to Irene. She had picked up some pamphlets about child abuse at the community centre. Perhaps she could use them to start a conversation about their own father's harsh behaviour. Maybe if Irene could remember the pain of that old abuse, she could find the strength to get some help for herself and for Patrick.

What does it look like?

Emotional abuse happens when a person uses words or actions to control, frighten, isolate, or take away a child's self-respect and sense of worth. Emotional abuse is sometimes called psychological abuse. It can include:

  • putting a child down or humiliating a child
  • constantly criticizing a child
  • constantly yelling at a child
  • threatening to harm a child or others
  • keeping a child from seeing their family or friends without good reason, or
  • threatening to move a child out of their home.

Some forms of emotional abuse are crimes in Canada, including:

  • threatening to harm a child
  • threatening to harm another person
  • threatening to destroy the child's personal property
  • threatening to hurt the child's pet
  • harassing the child on the telephone
  • deliberately intimidating a child, and
  • advising a child to commit suicide.

Other forms of emotional abuse are not crimes, but they are still very serious. The provinces and territories also have laws that protect children from emotional abuse. These laws protect children even if the type of abuse is not a crime.

Children who see or hear family violence

Children can also suffer emotional abuse from seeing or hearing violence between other family members.

Even if they don't see or hear the violence, they can be affected by seeing the results of the violence. It can be very hard for children to see or hear family violence even if they are not being physically hurt themselves.

They will probably feel scared and insecure.

What can I do?

Every province and territory has a law that says that any person who believes a child is being abused must report it. You will not get in trouble for making the report if you have reason to believe a child is being abused, even if it turns out you were wrong.

If you believe that a child you know is being emotionally abused, you can:

  • Call your local child protection services.
  • Talk to a public health nurse, doctor, social worker or teacher.
  • Call your local help line.
Date modified: