Doctors Warn of the Lasting Damage of Shame

A new report tells parents: Lighten up!

Parents need to make their children feel safe, secure and loved instead of belittled and degraded, according to newly released guidelines on emotional abuse in children.

A new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) identifies parents' actions that may amount to psychological maltreatment of children, as well as the consequences of such actions.

According to the report, "The Psychological Maltreatment of Children," psychological maltreatment is "a repeated pattern of damaging interactions between parent(s) and child that becomes typical of the relationship." Psychological maltreatment makes a child feel worthless, unloved, endangered, or as if his or her only value is in meeting someone else's needs.

Some examples include: belittling, degrading, or ridiculing a child; terrorizing a child by committing life-threatening acts or making him or her feel unsafe; exploiting or corrupting a child; failing to express affection, caring, and love; and neglecting mental health, medical or educational needs. When such behaviors are severe and/or repetitious, children may experience problems that include: emotional troubles ranging from low self-esteem to suicidal thoughts; antisocial behaviors; low academic achievement; and impaired physical health.

As negative effects on the child can be reduced with early recognition, reporting and therapy, the report says pediatricians should recognize psychological maltreatment and the risk factors that predispose families to it.

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