How To Tell If Your Kids Are Victims Of Childhood Emotional Neglect

Your children might be impacted by your own childhood.

Last updated on Nov 10, 2023

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When your parents fail to respond enough to your emotional needs. This is Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN).

This seemingly insignificant non-event of childhood emotional neglect is like nothing to most people. Indeed, it happens in every household, every family, and every childhood that ever happened. It’s true.

Every parent fails their child emotionally many times, and usually, it’s not a big problem. Until it is.


RELATED: 6 Ways People Who Were Emotionally Neglected As Kids Can Become Better Parents

Here's how to tell if your kids are victims of childhood emotional neglect.

1. You haven't noticd the child's emotional needs.

The child is sad and hurt about a problem with their teacher at school that day, but they don't take a moment to open the discussion.


2. As parents, you decide on inaction.

The parent feels it is unnecessary to talk with their child about the kid trying to skip school since the school has already punished them.

3. An adult child dreads visiting their parents

Every time they see their parents, they feel uncomfortable and irritable for no apparent reason.

4. They walk through decades of life disconnected

They always wonder what everyone else has that they lack. Forever feeling on a deep level, lost and alone, and baffled about what is wrong.

5. As a couple, the adult child pretends

They pretend last night’s argument never happened because they don’t know what else to do.

6. As a supervisor, they send their crew home late

It's midnight, and everyone has worked a double shift. The supervisor sends them home without acknowledging they have gone far above and beyond the call of duty to help meet a deadline.


RELATED: 3 Things Parents With Emotionally Intelligent Kids Do Differently

When the word “enough” becomes important.

1. Enough failures.

Parents are emotionally neglecting their kids when they fail to notice their child’s emotions and respond.

When small failures and instances of childhood emotional neglect by the parent happen often enough or in situations that are serious or intense enough, this non-event leaves its invisible yet impactful footprint on the child’s life. What results are the lasting effects of childhood emotional neglect in adulthood?

Just like the sprinkles of pepper over food change the experience of the food itself, the life of a child with emotional neglect becomes flavored by the sprinkle of childhood emotional neglect incidents over their childhood. But the effects are so difficult to see and remember that the CEN child has no idea that their life should feel any different than it does.


2. “Doesn’t everyone feel this way?”

They end up wondering. Because, as an adult who suffered childhood emotional neglect, they have no idea the answer is "no."

Children who grow up with their feelings ignored receive a subliminal message from their parents: Your feelings do not matter.

What does a child do when they receive this message over and over? What do they do with their emotions, the most personal, biological expression of their true self?

Fortunately, the child's brain takes care of it for them. It pushes their emotions away. Away from their mom and dad and anyone they might burden or bother. And that, unfortunately, includes themselves.


3. No more failing their feelings.

Parents unaware of the importance of their child’s emotions always fail their child’s feelings in other critical ways.

Consider the parents above who let the school teach their child not to skip class. They missed an incredible opportunity to learn more about their child and their feelings, to talk them through a poor choice, and to teach them how feelings and behavior work together.

So now our CEN child is growing up with their feelings pushed away, a lack of awareness and understanding of their feelings and behavior, and likely also a sense that their parents don’t know or understand them. This will drive an invisible wedge that will divide the child from their parents emotionally forever, causing them to feel inexplicably alone and uncomfortable when they are around their parents.

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


4. Acknowledge all future feelings as essential to well-being.

When our child grows up, they will feel a deep discomfort within themselves and a deep feeling that something is missing — their emotions.

Lacking the emotional skills that the parents failed to teach, the adult child's marriage may tend to be distant and lacking in intimacy, and their ability to recognize and respond to others’ emotional needs may be as difficult as recognizing and responding to their own.

The great news is that a silver lining glows behind the gray cloud hanging over our CEN child. Since we know what caused their gray cloud, we also know how to get rid of it.


Since the parents ignore the child's feelings, the child can begin to pay attention to what they feel and accept that their feelings not only matter but are essential to their health and well-being. Since the parents failed to teach the child how to name, tolerate, listen to, manage, and share their emotions, the child can now learn those emotional skills for themselves. And they can begin to use them.

Since they've been blaming themselves for their deep feelings of emptiness and discontent, they can realize it’s not their fault. They didn’t ask for it or cause it. This will free them up to attack the problem and correct it.

As soon as the child looks carefully, they will see their emotions reflect their deepest self. They will see that their emotions are their friends and will fill, direct, and connect them. They will find the answers to the questions they never knew to ask. And they will realize the answers were inside them all along.

Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) is invisible, so it can be challenging to identify if you grew up with it.


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

Jonice Webb, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and best-selling author of two self-help books. She specializes in childhood emotional neglect, relationships, communication issues, and mental health. Dr. Webb has appeared on CBS News and NPR, and her work has been cited by many publications.