Skip to content
Home » Childhood Emotional Neglect

Childhood Emotional Neglect

young child sat on stairs all alone crying with head in hands

Childhood Emotional Neglect

childhood emotional neglect


“Childhood emotional neglect is a failure of parents or caregivers to respond to a child’s emotional needs. This type of neglect can have long-term consequences, as well as short-term, almost immediate ones.”

What is Childhood Emotional Neglect?

Childhood emotional neglect is where your physical needs have been taken care of as a child yet your emotional needs were not taken care of. This can be seen in the parents who are physically present for their children yet emotionally not attuned.

Children of emotionally neglectful parents may have everything they materially wish for; toys, computer games, foreign holidays and a good education yet these children may be emotionally neglected as their parents are always at work, their parents are constantly busy or their parents have never worked through their own childhood issues.

At first glance many parents bypass the term  as they see this as very black and white, believing that only children who are starved, physically beaten and growing up in poverty are “neglected” however this is not the case.

It is worth noting that parents don’t go out their way to emotionally neglect their children in the way that those who abuse their children do. Parents who aren’t able to respond to their child’s emotional needs were often starved emotionally themselves as children and lack awareness and skills around how to connect emotionally to their child.

Becoming aware of Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN)

When adults become aware CEN they can feel deeply saddened that their emotional needs were not taken care of as a child. They start to acknowledge that their feelings were never validated or understood.

An example of this is when a child comes home from school upset because a friend didn’t play with them at lunch time and a parent just shrugs it off telling them “It’s ok, you have other friends” or “You shouldn’t over think it, you are a bit too sensitive about these things.”

Over time the child learns that no one really see’s them. The effects can be quite subtle but eventually the child will stop confiding in the parent as the child begins to believe their feelings don’t matter.


childhood emotional neglect
shouting at teenagers

How Childhood Emotional Neglect impacts parenting

You have a difficult time understanding your feelings and your child's feelings

You don't know how to regulate your feelings and have a harder time trying to co-regulate with your child.

Because you don't understand your emotional needs you fail to have structure and discipline with your children. Often having a difficult time being self disciplined.

You blame yourself for parental hardships. Thinking you must be a "bad parent."

You don't know how to emotionally attune to your child struggle to connect with them. You don't really know how to get in your child's world having very little understanding of their experiences.

You have a sense that something is wrong with you as you feel disconnected, numb, emotionally empty.

“The fuel of life is feeling. If we’re not filled up in childhood, we must fill ourselves as adults. Otherwise, we will find ourselves running on empty.”

Dr Jonice Webb – author of “Running on Empty. Overcome your childhood emotional neglect

How to treat Childhood Emotional Neglect?

Childhood emotional neglect can be so subtle that there isn’t necessarily a diagnosis for it. Many doctors and therapists still remain unaware of the term however for those who have been emotionally neglected CEN is very real.

Find a therapist

Once you are aware of childhood emotional neglect you can seek out a therapist who has an understanding of CEN. Look for a therapist who has somatic experience training and insights into ‘inner child work.’ During these sessions you will likely revisit your childhood to understand what needs of yours were not met and how your parent wasn’t skilled to help you. From this place of awareness you can then take compassionates steps to understanding your feelings and how to express them which in turn will help you with your child’s feelings.

Work on your parenting skills

We tend to repeat the very same parenting we had until we learn a better way. Look for parenting classes, resources or parent coaches who can help you with your parenting. A parent coach would briefly touch upon your childhood whilst also helping you develop your parenting skills. This would help you learn the necessary skills to recognise, listen to and respond to a child’s emotions whilst also getting help with your own emotions. Parent coaches can often act as the parent you never had – really seeing, hearing and validating your feelings.`


Recommended reading:

Running on empty – overcoming childhood emotional neglect by Dr Jonice Webb

Running on empty no more – transform your relationships with your partner, your parents and your children by Dr Jonice Webb

Treating adult survivors of Childhood Emotional Abuse and Neglect – by Elizabeth K Hopper