09/09/2016 6:19 AM AEST | Updated 09/09/2016 6:22 AM AEST

Sticks And Stones May Break Bones, But Words Can Hurt Forever

We've got to stop this attitude of "it's not my business".

"It breaks my heart that we have to teach children that they are not stupid or worthless."

Emotional abuse is one of the most misunderstood forms of child abuse and neglect. In 2014-15, there was 42,457 substantiated cases of abuse and neglect, and sadly 43 percent of these children were emotionally abused.

People understand the effects of hitting a child or sexually abusing a child. A harder concept to grasp is the damage that is caused by calling a child "stupid" over and over again or telling them "they never should have been born". Bruises fade, but making a child regret their own existence is a bit tougher to heal.

When children are emotionally abused, this can prevent their brain from developing properly, which can lead to struggles with their wellbeing and development -- from their speech and language to their ability to engage and function at school.

If emotional abuse is left untreated, children are significantly at risk of drug or alcohol abuse problems, mental health issues, eating or sleep disorders and struggles with future life coping skills.

It breaks my heart that we have to teach children that they are not stupid or worthless, that they have a right to feel safe and that they are the boss of their own little bodies.

Through techniques such as art therapy and sensory play, we work with these children to break down the walls that have been built up due to constant abuse. There's no one-size-fits-all approach; every single child has gone through their own personal trauma. As we learn more about the child, we can determine which techniques would best help them relax and open up.

We recently conducted research which confirmed what we anticipated was true -- that emotional abuse really is one of the most common forms of abuse. Unsurprisingly, the results of our survey revealed that over a third of respondents had experienced emotional abuse in their childhood. What did surprise us however, was that 40 percent of those surveyed didn't feel confident that they could identify the signs of abuse and neglect and one in ten people would wait to see if the situation got worse before reporting it to the authorities.

  • Over a third (38 percent) stated that they had experienced emotional abuse in their childhood
  • 1 in 4 (25 percent) would talk to the child's parents or caregivers if they suspected abuse or neglect
  • 1 in 2 people (50 percent) believe that child abuse and neglect are increasing
  • 42 percent of women said that they had experienced emotional abuse in their childhood.

We've got to stop this attitude of "it's not my business" or "I'll just wait and see what happens".

The theme of this year's National Child Protection Week is "protecting children is everyone's business". It's time for us to stop being scared and start taking a stand for kids that don't have a voice.

We need to educate children on how to stay safe, and encourage parents, carers, teachers and childcare workers to educate themselves on the signs of child abuse and neglect, keeping in mind that this will be different for every child.

Look for changes in behaviour: have they become anxious or withdrawn? Are they unwilling to participate in activities? Are they acting out or have their sleeping or eating patterns changed? These could all be possible indicators of child abuse or neglect. And it is everyone's business to care.

To find out more about Act for Kids please visit

More On This Topic