Verbal Abuse: a Form of Violence Against Children

Violence isn't only exerted through physical actions: words can also have a devastating effect on a child's self-esteem and development. Parents should be aware of this and try to avoid it.
Verbal Abuse: a Form of Violence Against Children

Last update: 08 December, 2018

Raising a child is a challenge for all parents. However, no matter how difficult it gets, you should never resort to violence as a means of teaching. Verbal abuse is becoming an increasingly common form of violence against children due to poor education and bad temper among adults.

When we talk about violence against children, we usually imagine a child being hit, pushed or punished in some painful fashion. However, there are much less obvious actions, which may even go unnoticed, that can cause great harm to children’s emotional development and self-esteem.

Parents who don’t know how to “control” their children or who don’t find a way to “make them understand” what is right and what is wrong may resort to contempt, belittling and even insults to impose their authority and teach. However, it’s clear that this is the worst method.

Unfortunately, despite the passage of time and the remarkable advances of human civilization, verbal abuse against children hasn’t disappeared. 

Why is verbal abuse a form of violence against children?

On November 20, 1989, the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the International Convention on the Rights of the Child. It’s a 54-page document that became the most widely accepted human rights treaty in the world; many countries applied it to their laws and even their constitutions.

This Convention establishes that children and adolescents are full legal subjects, deserving of respect, dignity and freedom. In addition, it revokes the archaic concept of the child as a passive object of intervention on the part of the family, the State and society.

“The International Convention on the Rights of the Child positions children as holders of all the rights that adults possess, adding other special rights due to their special status as persons in development”

Verbal abuse as a way of disrespecting children and attacking their dignity is considered a violation of the law in the 195 countries that make up the UN.

Verbal Abuse: a Form of Violence Against Children

Most common forms of verbal abuse

Words can hurt as much or more than physical violence. Their effects last in the minds of children since they view their parents as a source of wisdom and teaching. This leads them to think “if my father or mother tells me that I don’t do anything right, it must be true.”

That’s why verbal abuse is considered a form of violence against children that causes emotional distress. According to the Diocesan Team for Children and Adolescents (EDNA), an Argentine association that promotes children’s rights, verbal violence can be placed in two categories:

1. Active: includes lack of respect, insults, being too demanding and lack of understanding. It manifests itself in phrases such as:

  • “You’re good for nothing”
  • “You’re stupid, can you not understand what I’m explaining to you?”
  • “You don’t think with your head, it seems you think with your feet”
  • “You’re big, you’ve already made me tired”
  • “I’m tired of telling you things over and over again”
  • “You’re as dumb as your father”
  • “You’ll see when we get home”

2. Passive: this includes indifference, lack of love and disinterest. It can cause serious disorders, such as what is known as anaclitic depression.

Consequences of verbal abuse

Unfortunately, verbal abuse has become a means of “educating” that is even accepted by common society. There is always someone who says “when I was a child they hit us with belts and we learned to behave.”

The acceptance of violence without reflecting critically on its possible effects is one of the worst attitudes that society can have.

This can cause serious problems in children’s emotional stability, such as damage to their self-esteem and ability to relate to others.

This can also lead to feelings of insecurity or fear towards their parents – the people who should inspire exactly the opposite – and a sense of guilt due to not meeting their demands.

Verbal Abuse: a Form of Violence Against Children

How can we prevent verbal abuse?

The EDNA recommends the following actions to prevent verbal abuse against children:

  • Don’t lower their self-esteem: praise their achievements and encourage their desire to improve.
  • Be a good example: children see and absorb everything. Therefore, if they see their parents solving their problems through shouting, threats and beatings, in the future they’ll do the same with others and also with their family.
  • Talk with your children: always keep in mind that they’re children and have a lot to learn. Since they can’t always behave themselves, you need to talk to them in order to explain the behaviors that are expected of them.
  • Don’t overdo it: if there is one thing that will destroy children’s self-esteem, it’s not being able to do what their parents ask of them. Encourage them to always be a little better, but not to compete and beat everyone else.

In recent years, there have been many awareness campaigns aiming to eliminate verbal abuse completely. I f you witness any situation in which it occurs, try to get involved or alert whoever necessary to help prevent greater evils.

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.

  • Arruabarrena, M. I., & De Paul, J. (1996). Maltrato a los niños en la familia: evaluación y tratamiento. Ediciones Pirámide.
  • Arruabarrena, M. (2011). Maltrato psicológico a los niños, niñas y adolescentes en la familia: definición y valoración de su gravedad. Psychosocial intervention, 20(1), 25-44.
  • Stamateas, B. (2014). No me maltrates: cómo detener y poner límites al maltrato verbal. B DE BOOKS.

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