What is an emotional cutoff in a child in the context of family separation?

Children rarely reject/emotionally cut off from their mother or father. It only occurs as a result of some form of abuse, even then, children rarely reject an abusive parent, they are more likely to try harder to bond with the parent to avoid being abandoned or to get their needs met.

When a relationship between parents ends, sometimes coercive and controlling behaviours are employed by an adult to ensure they have full control over the child with no competition for the child’s affection. It is likely that controlling behaviours were present before family separation but were not recognised at the time.

Children may have different reactions to the manipulative behaviour as some are more resilient than others. It may start with mild symptoms which can be seen in the child’s behaviour. If it is not tackled early enough it can move to more moderate symptoms and then, in severest cases, lead to an emotional cutoff where the child rejects a parent. Going from mild symptoms to severe can happen within weeks. It can start with one child, usually the eldest, and then spread to younger children.

By the time cases reach Family Court significant harm may already have been inflicted on a child. The longer it is allowed to go on, significantly more support will be required by the family. In severest cases it is considered to be child psychological abuse.

The American Psychological Association (APA) found that childhood psychological abuse is as harmful to victims as sexual or physical abuse. It can be harder to treat than other forms of abuse and it impacts heavily on a child’s prospects.

Those working in the field to support families where children have had an emotional cutoff are reporting their clients are almost evenly split between men and women. This is not a “father” only issue, this is an issue of coercive control.