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Parenting from experience: Shaping the emotional well-being of a young child

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For many of us growing up, the role of emotion and feelings were never part of the equation. One was expected to muster up enough grit to move on even in the most challenging of circumstances. You might be familiar with the phrase “boys don’t cry” where we see how there are certain expectations of emotional expression tied to one’s gender. Leading up to the most recent amendments to the Child and Young Persons Act (CYPA) in 2020, the Ministry of Social and Family Development sought to define terms like ‘emotional injury’ as a first step to better safeguard the safety and well-being of children in situations of emotional abuse. With the recent attention given to the topic of emotional abuse and neglect, this could bring about a host of questions for us. What does it mean to have experienced emotional abuse and neglect? What is so concerning about emotional harm? Surely emotional harm is not serious as compared to physical harm!

Emotional abuse has varying definitions across countries. It could be described as overtly rejecting behaviour of carers involving active parental hostility, verbal or emotional assaults, threatened harm or close confinement. Parents and carers who are emotionally abusive persistently criticise, shame, rebuke, threaten, ridicule, humiliate, put down, induce fear and anxiety, who are never satisfied with the child’s behaviour and performance (and who show this deliberately to hurt a child). This could come in the form of saying “You are never good enough”, “Why are you so stupid” or threats of harm “I am going to kill you” that could overtime result in significant impairment of the child’s social, emotional and intellectual development. Although emotional abuse or neglect might not always bring about immediate effects as observable as that of physical abuse or neglect, children might grow up having a strong belief that they are not good enough or not worthy of love. This could affect their self-esteem and confidence.

Research has also shown that emotional abuse often exists where there is physical and/or sexual abuse. The experience of family violence has shown to affect a child’s emotional well-being as a result of its impact on the parent’s ability to attend to the child’s needs.

Given how differently each of us has been brought up, recognising where how our childhood experiences have shaped our emotional well-being is a key first step.

  • How was I parented growing up?

  • Recall an experience in your childhood where you felt understood. What was it like to have someone believe in me? How does it contribute to the person I am today?

  • If not, how was it like not feeling understood?

Parenting is hard. It should never be done alone. Speak to a counsellor for support especially in situations of family violence or where emotional or physical abuse or neglect has been a personal experience for you. Early intervention would bring you the support you need and mediate any negative emotional well-being outcomes for your children.

Here are some other questions you can ask yourself to improve the way you have been parenting your child:

  • How do my childhood experiences impact the way I parent my child?

  • How can I parent in a way that allows me to be firm without invalidating my child’s feelings?

  • How can I create a space for myself to acknowledge the frustrations, disappointments that I feel in my journey as a parent?

As you reflect, you may experience feelings of discomfort, guilt and shame, but these are all part and parcel of recognising where we have fallen short as you embark on the journey to become a better parent. It’s never too late to take the first step so that the children in our care have their voices heard and grow up to be confident, resilient individuals.

Written By: Joanne Hee, Social Worker


Elliott, J. M., Sian, C. Y., & Thomas, J. I. (2002, February). Emotional Maltreatment of Children in Singapore: Professional and Public Perceptions. Retrieved from Singapore Children’s Society: https://www.childrensociety.org.sg/resources/front/template/scs/files/Monograph%204%20emotional%20abuse%20and%20neglect.pdf

Guan, G. L. (2011, Jan to Mar). Management of Child Abuse in Singapore. The Singapore Family Physician, 37(1), 17-24.

Han, G. Y. (2019, September 3). Retrieved from The Straits Times: https://www.straitstimes.com/politics/parliament-what-is-emotional-injury-term-explained-in-proposed-changes-to-law-for-the-young?xtor=CS3-18&utm_source=STiPhone&utm_medium=share&utm_term=2019-09-04%209%3A09%3A04&fbclid=IwAR2CITCIxwz72cPQiWxjGCLiFhXpr3OQM

Levendosky, A., Bogat, G. A., & Huth-Bocks, A. C. (2011, October). The influence of domestic violence on the development of the attachment relationship between mother and young child. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 28(4), 512-527.