Emotional baggage.

In recent years the topic of emotional neglect has become a primary concern for both researchers and service providers. Researchers have struggled for some time to agree on precise working definitions that service providers can use to help identify and report occurrences of emotional neglect. However, defining and documenting this form of maltreatment has been difficult. The damage done by physical abuse and neglect often is visible and easily detected by professionals, making assessment and intervention less difficult. In contrast, emotional neglect may inflict unseen or nonphysical damage that is not apparent until years later.

One definition of emotional neglect focuses on the passivity of the parent. “Such neglect refers to the passive ignoring of a child’s emotional needs; to lack of attention and of stimulation; and to parental unavailability to care, to supervise, to guide, to teach, and to protect”. Another definition states, “Emotional neglect occurs when meaningful adults are unable to provide necessary nurturance, stimulation, encouragement, and protection to the child at various stages of development, which inhibits his/her optimal functioning.” Regardless of differences in definition, both researchers and service providers agree that emotional neglect is a very real problem that can have serious effects and may alter the outcome of a child’s emotional development.

While the causes of emotional neglect vary widely, there are a number of parenting behaviours that can indicate its presence. Parents who emotionally neglect their children often do not interact with them, and do not speak, play, or encourage new activities and opportunities to learn. This treatment inhibits a child’s vigorous and happy development. A parent may be neglectful because of a lack of knowledge or poor judgment. Parents with inadequate child-rearing skills may be unaware that a child needs stimulation, interaction, and nurturance to be able to reach normal developmental goals.
The Lasting effects of emotional neglect can be wide-ranging. The manifestation of such effects in early childhood may include self-harming behaviour, bizarre eating habits, destructive acts, and social isolation. In sum, severe emotional neglect has been found to stunt the emotional, and sometimes physical, growth of a child. The Westat Corporation found in their recently published 1996 National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect that between 1986 and 1993 the estimated number of emotionally neglected children nearly tripled from 203,000 to 585,000.

Parent training and education should be the primary objectives for those interested in preventing emotional neglect. Increasing a parent’s understanding of the emotional and developmental needs of the child will help prepare the parent to adequately engage the child in caring, nurturing, and emotionally healthy behaviour. Raising Children requires the parent not only to show love and acceptance, but also to have the awareness and skills necessary to raise a child confidently and well.

Current scientific research shows that most of the development of the human brain takes place during the first three years of life. To ensure healthy development, children need appropriate cognitive, emotional, and physical stimulation. Parents need to be aware of their child’s developmental stages in order to encourage healthy development in an age-appropriate manner.

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