Margaret Tucker

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Childhood Emotional Neglect

Once upon a time, parents thought that if their children had food in their tummies, clothes on their backs and warm places to sleep, then they had everything they needed. And in the Great Depression or a war, that’s true. We now know that children have emotional lives and these emotional lives need tending.

Children need emotional nurturance:

  • they need help identifying what they’re feeling,
  • help with regulating those feelings so they’re not overwhelmed,
  • they need to have their emotions seen and recognized,
  • they need emotional support at the right time and in the right way

Childhood emotional neglect (CEN) is a term coined by psychologist Dr. Jonice Webb.  In brief, it is a parent’s difficulty in responding to the child’s emotional needs, when they need it and how they need it. It’s the opposite of emotional abuse, it is the absence of emotional nurturance.

  • Is it hard to know what you’re feeling?
  • Do you feel like an imposter?
  • Do you struggle with feelings of failure?
  • Do you dislike or hate yourself?

Here are some of the symptoms of CEN from Dr. Webb’s website (

  • You take pride on not relying on others and have trouble asking for help.
  • Your friends and family tell you that you are aloof or distant.
  • You judge yourself more harshly than you judge others.
  • You secretly feel like there is something wrong with you.
  • You have trouble knowing what you are feeling.
  • Sometimes you feel like you don’t belong when with your family or friends.
  • You often just want to be left alone
  • You find it easier to love animals than people

You can find her full questionnaire at

A child has a right to:

  • Food, clothing and shelter
  • Kindness, compassion and understanding
  • Respect
  • Patience
  • Seek help and receive it
  • Question and push boundaries without damaging punishment
  • Get angry and still be loved
  • To not be shamed
  • Unconditional Love
  • Unquestioning and unconditional support
  • Guidance
  • Time with friends
  • Have their interests, spirits, thoughts, emotions, hopes and dreams seen and validated
  • Be mischievious and playful
  • Fail and still be loved
  • Succeed
  • Be seen as an individual and not an extension of the parent
  • Not be labelled as you’re just like….or you’re always such a …..

It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.