4 Signs of Emotional Neglect in Children

Children need hugs, kisses, guidance and protection from their parents. It isn't about spoiling children, or coddling them: there are important reasons to show kids how much you care.
4 Signs of Emotional Neglect in Children

Last update: 14 April, 2018

Children absorb everything from their surroundings, whether good or bad, and return it exponentially. That’s why e motional neglect in children can have severe consequences for their future wellbeing.

In childhood, we depend to a large extent on parents and guardians. Not just economically, since children aren’t capable of providing for themselves, or educationally; but also emotionally and psychologically.

Providing love, affection, contentment and understanding is one of the very best things an adult can do for a little one. A positive role model at this stage of life can make a huge difference.

This will allow the child to grow up in a healthy environment and develop values and abilities that emulate the adults around them.

In many cases, however, this doesn’t happen. Emotional neglect in children directly impacts their attitudes, behaviors and interpretation of what happens to them later in life.

What do we mean by emotional neglect in children?

Emotional neglect in children occurs when the child’s innate need to feel protected, valued and loved isn’t met.

At this age, our need for affection, gestures of love and constant care is much greater than during adolescence or adulthood.

By the time we’re older, we have many tools to face the world on our own. This isn’t the case for young children.

A lack of affection and attachment at home doesn’t necessarily go along with physical violence.

In fact, it can frequently arise from everyday situations that we see as normal. These include a lack of communication, long periods of absence for work or other reasons, or abandonment by a parent.

Modern lifestyles have a lot to do with this. It’s by no means uncommon to see parents rushing around with their cellphone in their hand and problems at work on their mind.

What about the children? At best, they’re following behind, trying hopelessly to attract a little attention.

4 Signs of Emotional Neglect in Children

4 signs of emotional neglect in children

1. Emotional emptiness

This can manifest during childhood or later in life. It’s a sensation of constant and unfulfilled need, regardless of individual achievements.

This feeling of loneliness, unease or anguish may be linked to a lack of connection to a figure of attachment early in life.

2. Bad relationships with figures of attachment

Children who don’t grow up with a strong bond with their parents have difficulty forming healthy relationships with others.

This can translate into rejection, anger or mistrust towards figures of attachment. It can even manifest in hatred and resentment.

Where other people are concerned, meanwhile, relationships of dependency can form. The neglected person longs to receive undivided attention from somebody.

This same issue may lead to jealousy or dissatisfaction in personal relationships.

“Providing love, affection, contentment and understanding is one of the very best things an adult can do for a little one”

3. Misbehavior

Unsuitable behavior is born out of the need to receive the attention that was denied earlier in life.

If you go out to a public place and look around you, you’re sure to see children running, shouting or pushing their parents to watch or play with them.

If they don’t achieve this goal, the scene becomes more intense.

The typical signs of this kind of misbehavior are: mood swings, uncontrolled crying, aggression, rage and impulsiveness.

4. Physical and psychological problems

Children who suffer from emotional neglect are more likely to suffer from anxiety, learning disabilities, and difficulties forming and maintaining social relationships. They even suffer from infections more frequently.

This is due to the direct link between our mental wellbeing and the effectiveness of our immune system.

4 Signs of Emotional Neglect in Children

Is it possible to reverse this situation?

It isn’t just possible: it’s necessary. Emotional neglect in children can lead to future attempts to fill the void with substance abuse: tobacco, alcohol and drugs.

Emotional neglect in children can also lead to other compulsive or high-risk behavior to obtain momentary satisfaction.

Examples include shopping addiction, reckless driving, unprotected sex or even shoplifting.

If you’ve noticed one or more of the signs listed above, the best course of action is to visit a psychologist for treatment.

Prevention is better than cure, however. With this in mind, parents must:

  • Listen to their children.
  • Spend quality time together as a family, even if this is brief.
  • Show affection, consideration and understanding.
  • Make their children feel protected and cared for.

It’s clear that displays of parental affection are fundamentally important for little ones.

Even little gestures which may seem insignificant at the time may radically change a child’s mood and their view of the world.

Spend time and invest energy in your child’s upbringing, and particularly their emotional wellbeing.


All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.