“Lifelong consequences include physical and mental health problems; impairments in language, social, and communication skills; and severe effects on brain development and hormonal functioning,” researchers wrote.

The study included 28 case-control, one cross-sectional and 13 cohort studies in children aged 0 to 6 years with confirmed neglect or emotional abuse.

Researchers found that key features in the participants included 11 studies of aggression shown as anger, disruptive behavior, conduct problems, oppositional behavior and low ego control; 12 studies of withdrawal or passivity, including negative self-esteem, anxious or avoidant behavior, poor emotional knowledge, and difficulties interpreting emotional expressions in others; 17 studies showing developmental delay, which was mainly delayed language, cognitive function, and overall development quotient; five studies with poor peer interaction, including poor social interactions, unlikely to help relieve distress in others; and six studies with transition issues related to ambivalent to avoidant insecure attachment pattern and from passive to increasingly aggressive behavior and negative self-representation.

“Definitions of neglect vary, and emotional neglect and emotional abuse can be considered part of a spectrum from the lack of attunement to persistent harmful carer-child interactions,” researchers wrote. “Although categories of abuse and neglect have their place and inform our understanding of the mechanisms of child maltreatment, social and health care professionals should be mindful that many children will be subjected to multiple forms of abuse and neglect simultaneously.”

Disclosure: The study was funded by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.