The Profound Impact of Words: Childhood Verbal Abuse and Its Parity with Physical and Sexual Abuse, Unveiled by Recent Study


11/16/20232 min read

The Profound Impact of Words: Childhood Verbal Abuse and Its Parity with Physical and Sexual Abuse,
The Profound Impact of Words: Childhood Verbal Abuse and Its Parity with Physical and Sexual Abuse,


In the intricate landscape of child development, the influence of language and communication has often been understated. However, a groundbreaking study emanating from Wingate University in North Carolina and University College London (UCL) is challenging conventional wisdom. Commissioned by the UK charity Words Matter, this research, recently published in the esteemed journal Child Abuse & Neglect, asserts that yelling at children can be as damaging as sexual or physical abuse. This revelation not only challenges preconceived notions but also underscores the urgency of recognizing childhood verbal abuse (CVA) as a legitimate and impactful form of maltreatment.

Defining Childhood Verbal Abuse

The study, a meticulous analysis of 149 quantitative and 17 qualitative studies examining CVA, delves into the intricate nuances of negative speech volume, tone, and content. Unraveling the immediate impact of such verbal abuse, the researchers advocate for a reevaluation of the current categories of childhood maltreatment, which include physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect. The study suggests that CVA is characterized by its profound negative effects on a child's emotional and psychological well-being, challenging the prevailing narrative surrounding verbal abuse.

Perpetrators and Prevalence

One of the study's stark revelations is that parents, particularly mothers, and teachers emerge as the most common perpetrators of CVA. This finding thrusts the issue into the spotlight, demanding society's attention to the pervasive nature of verbal abuse within familial and educational spheres. The recognition of CVA as a significant concern prompts a reevaluation of the dynamics shaping children's daily interactions, urging a comprehensive examination of the various avenues through which verbal abuse can manifest.

Lifelong Consequences

The research sheds a glaring light on the lasting repercussions of CVA, with effects that reverberate into adulthood. The study identifies a range of psychological and emotional consequences, including but not limited to obesity, heightened risks of anger, substance abuse, depression, and self-harm. The acknowledgment of these profound and enduring effects reinforces the urgency of addressing childhood verbal abuse as a distinct form of maltreatment. It signals a call to action to create an environment where children can thrive without the burden of verbal mistreatment haunting their futures.

A Call for Action

Study co-author and UCL professor Peter Fonagy stress the importance of preventing child maltreatment to reduce the prevalence of mental health problems. Acknowledging CVA as a subtype of abuse, the researchers contend, serves as a crucial starting point for identification and prevention. The study also proposes a paradigm shift in adult training, emphasizing the significance of safety, support, and nurturance during verbal communication with children. This holistic approach aims to create a supportive environment that shields children from the damaging effects of verbal abuse, encouraging a culture of positive communication and understanding.


In a society increasingly aware of the importance of mental health, the study on childhood verbal abuse emerges as a transformative force. By equating the impact of yelling at children to that of physical and sexual abuse, the research challenges ingrained beliefs and compels us to reevaluate our approach to child development. As the call for recognition and action gains momentum, it is imperative that society acknowledges the profound consequences of childhood verbal abuse and commits to fostering an environment where words become a source of empowerment rather than harm. The study serves as a rallying cry for change, urging us to safeguard the emotional well-being of future generations through the power of positive communication.