Give Your Kids What You Never Had: 5 Ways to Stop Childhood Emotional Neglect

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You can give your kids what you never had.

Few things can make a difference in your parenting as much as healing your emotional neglect.

It’s true! To explain why we must first take a look at your own parents.

Emotional neglect (CEN) happens when your parents, even if they loved and cared about you, failed to validate your emotions enough while they were raising you.

This seemingly small failure seems so simple, and yet its effects on you, the child, were profound. In fact, they still run deep within you to this day.

When your parents did not notice, respond to, or validate your feelings enough, they sent you a powerful, subliminal message:

Your feelings do not matter.

When you received this message over and over again, your adaptive child brain knew just what to do. It walled off your emotions so that they would not burden your parents, or yourself.

This may have worked to cope in your childhood home, but as you grew into an adult, you needed access to your feelings. Now, the emotions that should be energizing, connecting, directing, and informing you are less accessible than you need them to be.

This fundamental disconnection within you affects your life in many important ways. But none of the effects are as great as the ones in your parenting.

Your CEN, invisible, unmemorable, and not your fault, quietly transfers itself from you to your children. Mostly because it’s so very hard to give your child something that you never got yourself.

There are clear ways for you to heal your emotional neglect, and as you do, you will naturally become a better parent.

How CEN Can Affect Your Parenting

  • If your parents didn’t notice, respond to and validate your feelings enough, it’s hard for you to notice, respond to, and validate your child’s feelings enough.
  • Emotion skills are meant to be learned in childhood. Did your parents teach you how to recognize, name, manage and express your feelings? Are you able to teach your child those skills now?
  • Did you feel enough empathy and emotional support from your parents as a child? If not, you are probably quite hard on yourself to this day. How does this treatment of yourself affect your parenting?
  • Did your parents see you clearly as they raised you? Do they now? If your parents have not seen and understood your true nature as a person, you may now struggle to understand yourself. And, by extension, your child.
  • Did you feel fully accepted and loved when you were growing up? Do you truly accept yourself, and love yourself now? It is not your fault at all, but this may make it a struggle to fully accept your child in the way she needs it.

Believe it or not, there is a remarkable thing about childhood emotional neglect (CEN). You can begin to treat yourself in the exact opposite ways that you were treated as a child.

As you give yourself what you never got, you will then have it to give to your children.

5 Ways Healing Your Emotional Neglect Makes You a Better Parent

1. The more you begin to value and attend to your own emotions, the more attuned you will be to your child’s feelings.

When you say, “Are you angry right now?” or “You look sad,” to your child, you are automatically teaching her about her feelings. She will grow up attuned to herself.

2. As you work to learn emotion skills, you will automatically teach them to your child.

Learning to name your feelings, sit with them, manage and express them when needed are all skills your child will see and experience in her relationship with you.

3. As you treat yourself with more compassion, you can help your child have more compassion for himself.

As you learn to accept that you are human and that you, like all humans, make mistakes, you will stop being so hard on yourself.

You’ll be able to show and teach your children how to learn from their missteps, forgive themselves, and move forward, instead of harshly judging themselves.

4. Beginning to pay attention to what you feel, need, like, and dislike will set a great example for your child.

You will be showing him that you are worth paying attention to, and this will make you better able to see him clearly too. You will be teaching him to pay attention to himself, and he will see himself reflected in your eyes.

He will grow up knowing himself and feeling deep down that he matters.

5. Working to accept yourself and love who you are can set your child up to feel this way about herself.

Armed with healthy self-love, and a sense that you are good enough, your child will learn self-love too and will grow up feeling strong, and knowing, deep down, that she is lovable. You did not choose to grow up with emotional neglect. In fact, as a child, you very likely didn’t even realize it was happening to you.

But now, as an adult, you can choose to heal your emotional neglect. And when you do, you are setting yourself on a clear path to being happier and healthier and being a more connected, effective parent to your children.

Making the decision to heal your emotional neglect is like saying to many generations going back in your family line: “The buck stops here. I will not deliver this burden to my children.”

And what could be more important, or more worthwhile, than that?

To learn more about how CEN affects your parenting and other relationships, Take the Emotional Neglect Questionnaire and see Jonice Webb’s book, Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.

To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect, see my first book Running on Empty. 

A version of this article first appeared on It has been reproduced here with the permission of the author.


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Linda - December 15, 2021 Reply

I haven’t even read the book yet, but just reading here is filling a knowledge gap that needs filling in myself. Years ago I read a book about children of alcoholics that gave me a glimpse of a family pattern that was definitely manifest in my life. As a grandchild of an alcoholic I think my parents went too far avoiding negative emotions for fear of replicating their experiences. Unfortunately that book gave me no tools of how to address what I was seeing in myself. Like Tracy, journaling was huge for me growing up. I can see now that letting that slide out of my life has left a big hole. At this point though, I think I need to work in more external ways of addressing my emotional challenges. I am excited to read the books. Between this and Jody Moore’s life coaching I think I can fill the hole that has always been inside me. I am so grateful for an opportunity to improve myself and help my children.

Carys - March 27, 2020 Reply

Hi Jonice – I’m from the UK. I have listened to you talk and know now that I suffered from CEN, and that its fall out has followed me throughout my entire life – including my personal and professional life. I ended up married an abusive man whom i met way back in 1994. He abused me emotionally from day 1. This progressed to verbal and financial abuse from the moment we moved in together in ’98 and, after our son arrived in ’04 he started physically abusing me too. Not all the time. There were big gaps when I thought it wouldn’t happen again. He terrified me and still does. I finally left him when my son was 8 yrs old (Dec ’12). I took my son with me and the last 7 yrs have been hell too….and yet so many people (including my closest family), tell me it should now all be rosy for me. It isnt, and chronic ill health, loss of career & financial independence (after a protracted divorce due to no cooperation from ex) + 3 house moves later etc. I am completely done in – but i do 100% try so hard to give my son what I didn’t get growing up. Its really difficult to get it right with all my ‘baggage’ and I constantly feel like a bad Mum, amongst other stuff. Dad is a heavy drinker and creates no boundaries as a parent. Coparenting has proven impossible and verbal, emotional and financial abuse has continued – with the threat of physical. I want to get strong so I can love myself and help my son to have the best life. Please can you recommend anything for me + anyone I could see in Manchester, England? Thankyou so much Jonice.

    Jonice - March 29, 2020 Reply

    Dear Carys, it is imperative that you get help and support! Please check the CEN Therapist List on this site for a CEN therapist near you. And if there’s not one, then ask your dr. to recommend someone. Abuse is not okay. It’s important.

Eileen - October 21, 2019 Reply

I’ve always known my feelings were not important to my parents or siblings, so I stopped having them. They did the same to my children. I try so hard to be loving to my children, to tell them I love them, but i sometimes, I guess I miss the mark. but I keep trying and I keep listening, but maybe I don’t understand what they are saying, because I’ve never had anyone sit down and listen to me. Now my mother is dead, and two of my sisters are trying to make up a relationship between my mother and me that never existed for me. It may have for them, but I never felt I could talk to her. One sister in particular is getting mad whenever I discuss how I was treated. I am walking a tightrope over a gorge..

    Jonice - October 24, 2019 Reply

    Dear Eileen, it’s not unusual for CEN parents to have different relationships with different kids. You may not be able to convince your sisters of your real experience, so please just focus on accepting it yourself. And facing it head-on.

Colleen - August 18, 2019 Reply

Wow. I am a poster child for this experience. Wish I’d known then what I know now! My kids are grown but I knew I wouldn’t do to them what was done or not done to me. My son said I was a free range parent, but I knew nothing else. I was one too, with no babysitter from first grade on. Luckily I had a grandma down the street to watch after me. I am still dealing with the effects of CEN in myself, but thanks to Jonice it is being acknowledged and she is trying to help!

    Jonice - August 18, 2019 Reply

    It’s never too late to change your relationship with your children, Colleen! There are many helpful suggestions for reaching out and connecting with your adult children in an emotionally validating and enriching way.

Victoria - August 11, 2019 Reply

Dear Jonice
Thank you once again for your wisdom and dedication in this area. It’s given me real hope and direction and I look forward to putting the tools to use for myself and my family,
Warm regards

    Jonice - August 11, 2019 Reply

    That’s great to hear!

Tracy - August 4, 2019 Reply

Even though I never felt my feelings were appreciated, wanted, validated as important or taken seriously by my parents, I had a diary, then it became a journal. I journaled throughout my childhood, teens, into adulthood, and still do. I became my own best friend. I have often thought that that one exercise was my saving grace in sanity, in life. Just encouraging anyone who doesn’t yet, to start a journal. It is .. simply priceless.

    Jonice - August 11, 2019 Reply

    Journaling is an excellent way to express and validate yourself. Thanks for sharing!

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