10 Ways To Know If Childhood Emotional Neglect Is Negatively Affecting Your Kids

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childhood emotional neglect
Family, Self

Here's how to tell for sure.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) happens when parents fail to respond enough to their children’s emotional needs as they raise them. This simple, invisible parental failure delivers a powerful message to the child: Your feelings don’t matter.

And since our emotions are the most deeply personal, biological expression of who we are, a child suffering from emotional neglect actually takes in an even deeper, more traumatic message: You don’t matter.


RELATED: 4 Signs You Were Emotionally Abandoned As A Kid (And It’s Affecting You Now)


Many emotionally neglectful parents love their children deeply and have no idea that they are emotionally neglecting them. Often, parents who are emotionally neglecting their children are only failing to notice their children’s emotions enough because they were raised this way by their own parents.

But sadly, no matter the cause, growing up with this message subliminally delivered to you from your parents day after day takes its toll and continues to affect you through adulthood. 

To cope, an emotionally neglected child will automatically push his or her emotions down and away, so that they won’t become a burden on your parents. This conditioned behavior sets you up for a set of very specific struggles as an adult.

Adults who grew up with emotional neglect feel, on some deep level, that they don’t matter. They lack proper access to their walled-off feelings. And since their emotions are their biggest and best source or connection, fulfillment and direction in life, this leaves them with a deep and lasting sense of aloneness, emptiness, and lack of fulfillment.

No loving, caring parent wants this for his or her child.

Built into the definition of Childhood Emotional Neglect is an important reason why many parents find this concept quite scary, and it’s all conveyed by the word "enough." Are you giving your child enough love or enough emotional support?

Enough is hard to judge. And what’s enough for one kid may not be enough for another.

So how do you know if you’re emotionally aware, emotionally responsive, and emotionally validating enough to raise your child to be connected, healthy and happy?

Fortunately, there’s an excellent way for you to find out if your child is receiving enough of all of these vital life ingredients from you — just ask!

Below are 10 questions that will be incredibly revealing if you pose them to your child at various times over a week or two. Believe it or not, you can ask your child these questions regardless of his or her age, all the way from toddler to adult.


RELATED: How People Who Were Emotionally Neglected Can Break The Cycle With Their Kids


Ask these 10 questions to test your child for emotional neglect:

1. Do you need help? If he says no, then ask: :Will you tell me if you do?

2. Do you want help? If she says no, next ask: Will you tell me if you do?

3. Are you angry?

4. Are you feeling hurt (or sad or afraid or some other emotion)?

5. What’s your favorite thing about yourself?

6. What’s your least favorite thing about yourself?

7. What are you best at?

8. What do you want?

9. What do you need?

10. How did that mistake happen?

Why do these questions work — and how?

In several excellent ways. First, since a key element of Childhood Emotional Neglect is the message that your parents are not interested in you and do not know you, the simple process of asking your child these questions is the exact opposite of CEN.

Second, you can assess by your child’s reaction whether he is surprised to be asked these questions by you. If she is surprised and taken aback, you might surmise that your child doesn’t regard her relationship with you as involving this level of interest and depth. This tells you that perhaps you haven’t been asking her enough meaningful, personal questions in the past — and that now is a good time to start doing so on a more regular basis.

Third, is your child able to answer your questions (if young, with some amount of help and discussion, of course)? This will tell you how well he’s able to turn his attention inward and consider his own internal qualities, assess his feelings and needs, and come up with information about himself.

Fourth, do your child’s answers correspond closely with your own observations of her? If not, this may mean that either your observations of your child are a bit off or that she does not have good self-awareness and self-knowledge.

Keep in mind that most children and adults would struggle with some of the questions, so please do not expect exact or easy answers from your child.

Overall, do you get a sense that your child knows you’re there for him? Knows himself?

Is she aware that she has feelings and an age-appropriate sense of what her feelings are? And is she willing to ask for and accept help when needed?

If so, these are all signs of a non-neglected child.

Understanding the results — and what to do next:

Once you’ve asked your child the questions, you may be feeling relieved, concerned or uncertain. Either way, you’re probably wondering what to do now. 

Here’s the beauty of this little experiment you have done with your child: The questions themselves are not only the test. They are also your answers!

Keep these 10 questions in your mind as you go through your days, and watch for opportunities to ask them. Each time you ask your young, adolescent or adult child one of these questions, you’re not only conveying your interest in his emotions and his deepest self, you are also helping him to know and value his own emotions and his deepest self.

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No matter how much you love and care for your child, noticing and responding to her feelings and emotional needs is essential. So when it comes to Childhood Emotional Neglect, your very act of asking these questions is both CEN prevention and the cure.


RELATED: How To Know If The Person Who Abandoned You In The Past Is Still Affecting You Today


Jonice Webb has a PhD. in clinical psychology and has years of experience identifying and working through issues of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). To learn more about CEN, how it’s automatically passed down in families, and how to raise emotionally connected children, read her book, Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parent & Your Children. Childhood Emotional Neglect is invisible, so it can be hard to know if you have it. To find out, take the Emotional Neglect Questionnaire — it’s free!

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