Psychological Maltreatment Definitions:

Psychological maltreatment is repeated or extreme caretaker behavior that disrupts the child's basic psychological needs (e.g.socialization, emotional support, respect, etc.) and convey that the child is worthless, unloved, unwanted, endangered, etc.

Spurning: both verbal and nonverbal acts in which a caregiver rejects or degrades a child

  • Belittling

  • Degrading

  • Hostile or rejecting treatment

  • Shaming

  • Ridiculing

  • Humiliating, especially in public

Exploiting/Corrupting: caregiver encourages the child  to adapt inappropriate attitudes and behaviors

  • Encouraging, allowing, or modeling antisocial behavior (e.g. prostitution, pornography modeling, criminal activities, etc.)

  • Interfering with or undermining important relationships for the child (e.g. restricting the child from communication with other parent)

  • Coercing submission from the child by excessive over-involvement, intrusiveness, or dominance, allowing little/no support for child's feelings and wishes

  • Medical child abuse

Terrorizing: threats from the caregiver or behavior that is likely to physically hurt, kill, or abandon, or put the child or the child's loved ones/objects in frightening situations

  • Exposing the child to frightening situations

  • threatening to abandon (or actually abandoning) the child

  • Setting rigid, unrealistic expectations

  • Threatening or perpetrating violent acts (e.g. domestic violence)

  • Preventing sleep, relaxation, or rest

Emotional unresponsiveness: caregiver ignores attempts and inherent need from child to interact with them

  • Detached and uninvolved

  • Not showing warmth, love, caring, etc.

  • Emotional detachment

Isolating: caregiver does not allow child to meet interaction or communication needs with peers and other adults

  • Confining 

  • Unreasonable limitations on social interactions with friends, family, or adults in the community

Mental health, medical, and educational neglect: caregiver ignores, refuses, or fails to provide treatment for mental health, medical, or educational needs of the child

  • Ignoring, failing, or refusing treatment/services for serious mental health, behavioral, physical, or educations problems for the child


This information is taken from the APSAC Handbook on Child Maltreatment (4th edition), Chapter 10 - Psychological Maltreatment of Children by Stuart Hart, Marla Brassard, Amy Baker, and Zoe Chiel.

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