How Can You Prevent Childhood Emotional Neglect?

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In our lifetime, we encounter successful adults around us –CEOs, tradesman, entrepreneurs, doctors, politicians and even billionaires. All of these adults are “successful,” especially if we are going to base it to the standards set by the society.

But sometimes, if we just try to look a little bit closer at the lives of the “successful” people around us something is missing. Maybe it’s that spark in their eyes or the light in their smile which signifies that there’s a piece of them that’s lacking emotionally.

As parents, we do want our children to be successful but how do we define it and how much are we really influencing our children and their lives as an adult.

What is Childhood Emotional Neglect?

Dr Jonice Webb, PHD, describes in her book Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect? that Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) as the failure of the parents to respond enough, or appropriately, to the emotional needs of a child.

CEN is not psychological maltreatment or physical abuse. On the contrary, it is the failure of the parent to notice what is going on with the child.

It is those moments when we fail to notice our child upset after coming home from school, or failing to discuss losing a game, or not hitting a goal. It is also those times when we set the bar too high and the child feels that no matter what he does, his effort will never be enough.

Childhood Emotional Neglect is the invisible thread that forever binds the child to his childhood experiences and emotions that will greatly affect him as an adult.

What Parenting Styles can Result to Childhood Emotional Neglect?

Striking the balance when you are a parent can be tough, but there are some specific parenting styles that can eventually lead to Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN.

Narcissistic Parenting Style

With this type of parenting style, image is the most important thing. The feeling of the child is the least priority. It sends a message to the child that his or her feelings are not important. What is important is you portray the perfect image according to the standards set by society.    

Why you may ask? Because for narcissistic parents, winning is important.

They are indirectly competing with other parents through their kids. They value accomplishments more than the feelings of the child. In the end, the child feels that he is not enough when he did not achieve anything.                                     

Authoritarian Parenting Style

This type of parenting established very strict rules and very high expectations. Parents are demanding and utilize extreme punishments without explaining to the child why such punishment is being implemented.

Another prominent characteristic of an authoritarian parenting style is everything needs to be done according to the way they want it done. It is either the parent’s way or the highway as they say. The children are not given any chance or options to decide on their own and to make choices independently.

Children who grew up with authoritative parents don’t have the luxury of feeling warmth and nurture because parents failed to notice the positive behavior that they are doing. There’s no positive reinforcement that can lead to low self-esteem.

Permissive Parenting Style

This is characterized by very responsive parents with few rules and guidelines for the child to follow. Children see their parents as a friend than a parental figure. In the end, children suffer from lack of self-control and setting rules for themselves.

Bereaved Parenting Style

When someone important to the parents dies like a spouse, a partner, or a sibling, grief sets in and sometimes it is easier to get lost in your own grief than to face reality.

Parents failed to acknowledge the feelings of the child – that the child is in fact grieving as well. Not to mention the fact that the child also undergoes many challenges on a daily basis and he needs support as well.

Addicted Parenting Style

This type of parenting involves parents who are wallowing in their pain. They cannot confront pain and moves pass it so they choose to just numb the feeling by using drugs or alcohol and other addictive habits.

The behavior of the parent will lead to the neglect of the child making the child responsible for his own physical and emotional needs.

Workaholic Parenting Style

This is another form of addiction. Parents can sometimes be very busy defining their success with achievements in careers and material possessions. In the end, instead of handling the emotional issues of the child, parents will replace it with material things.

The child is not even aware that his feelings are being neglected. When the child reached adulthood, he will have a hard time identifying his own emotional needs and this can lead to addiction, depression and anxiety.

Achievement-Focuses Parenting Style

With this parenting style, achievements are never enough and parents are always expecting more from their children. This will eventually result in an adult with very low-esteem.

Sociopathic Parenting

A child raised by a sociopathic parent tends to grew up thinking that they are unlovable.  The child doesn’t know that their parents have no ability to show emotions or respond properly to the emotions that their child is showing.

child emotional neglectHow do Children Learn About Feelings?

As parents, we always struggle finding that delicate balance between being supportive and of course, over doing do it. It is therefore important to know how children learn about emotions.

And surprise, surprise! Children learn about emotions by tuning in to their parents. It does make sense. Who else have the greatest influenced in a life of a child than their parents? Children mirror the responses of their parents. 

So let’s say a child came home upset because his lunch money got stolen. The way his parents will respond to the situation will validate his emotions. If a parent react out of concern for the child –cooks him a meal or a snack and offers to listen, the child will learn that him being upset is fine and that his parents are supportive.

But if a parent is very reactive and gets mad at the child for losing his lunch money, the child might think that it is not okay to share his problems and emotions to his parent. If this goes on, the child will learn to ignore his own emotions because his parents send the message that his emotions are not important.

When a parent ignores the feeling of the child or think that it is not important when a child is upset or frustrated, the child will grow up thinking that his feelings and emotions are not important.

Signs of Emotional Neglect?

Keep an eye out for your child displaying any of the following symptoms:

  • Sense of lack and emptiness. Adult with CEN usually have problems identifying their purpose in life.
  • Inability to trust others. They fear being rejected or being disappointed just because they trusted another person. Most often than not, they are very independent and are proud of it.  They find it difficult to ask for help and are used to not relying to anyone else.
  • No or minimal self-compassion.  They do have the capacity to have the compassion to someone else but they do not show enough kindness and compassion for themselves. They always feel that they are not doing anything substantial with their life. There will always be this nagging feeling that they are not achieving enough and that they are a complete failure in life.
  • Inability to understand what they are feelings. It is better for them not to talk about it and just continue on living their lives.
  • Low self-esteem. Years of being neglected can make you feel irrelevant at best leading to very low self-esteem in adulthood.
  • Perfectionist.  Growing up in an environment which makes image a priority can be the trigger for this. Everything needs to be perfect in the eyes of others.

How Parents Can Avoid Childhood Emotional Neglect?

Being a parent is hard and most often than not, we ask ourselves if we are doing the right thing. And with that questions comes another questions, did our own parents did the right thing. Here we are the finish product and as we face our own realities, we need to decide if we are going to follow the way our own parents brought us up or are we going to try something different.

The harsh truth is if our own parents neglected our emotions or belittles it, chances are we are going to do the same to our own children. Why? It is because it is our default and doesn’t any know other type of parenting.

The real question is how can you avoid committing the same mistake? How can you become emotionally attuned parents? 

  • Make sure that you child feels that he is part of the family and that he is not alone.
  • Assure you child that whatever he or she is feeling regardless of the situation is okay. Explain that it doesn’t mean that bad behaviors do not have any consequences. What it means is that their emotions do matter.
  • Help you child acknowledge their feelings and show them how to manage it appropriately.

Start small and allow yourself to adjust as well. You can reinforce your child’s emotions by changing some of the common phrase that we are using to converse with our children.

emotional neglect in children

Instead of saying… You can say….

Stop crying!…

  • Can you tell me why are you upset and crying?

Go to your room right now and fix that attitude…

  • Why are you upset? Do you want to talk about it?

I don’t want to talk about this anymore!…

  • Let’s us both calm down and take a break.

Stop crying and let’s go buy that toy that you want…

  • Come here and sit beside me. Take deep breaths and tell me why you are frustrated?

Just get this done and over with…

  • It is okay to be nervous. Just do your best and remember that I am here to support you.

Children have intense emotions and they are not doing it on purpose.  It is just that everything that they are feeling is new and has no idea how to handle it. It is our job as parents to make them feel secure and assure them that it is okay to feel frustrated, angry, upset, and even sad.  There are some ways that they can handle their emotions rather than responding to it in a very reactive way.

What Can You Do If You Suffered from Childhood Emotional Neglect?

If you have suffered from CEN, it is best to heal and reset yourself. The first step to healing is to acknowledge that you need it. Start understanding your experiences in life and check how you handled it. Do you have some of the signs and symptoms?

After doing that, it is time to let go. Let go of the guilt and shame that you felt ever since you’re a child.

Start acknowledging your feelings and your needs as a person and continue to set healthy boundaries. Have the courage to see your worth as a person and that you are not defined by your past.

Trust and start forming relationships with others and learn how to acknowledge the feelings of others as well.

You don’t have to be perfect, always remember that. Be kind to others but first and foremost to yourself. The same goes with parenting. You don’t have to do everything perfect.  Sometimes, doing a “well-enough” job as a parent could be the balance that we are striving to achieve as parents.

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James is our general tech. guy, product testing extraordinaire, and loving father of one. He has been with since 2016 and has a hand in most of the content on the site.