Difference Between Neglect and Inattention

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: August 05, 2022


Difference Between Neglect and Inattention Difference Between Neglect and Inattention

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Neglect and inattention are two similar terms that are often confused with each other or used interchangeably by people unfamiliar with the meanings of the two terms. While neglect and inattention both refer to a form of negligence, they are separate from each other in meaning and should not be used interchangeably. In this article, we will examine what neglect and inattention mean as well as how to differentiate between them. We will also see how neglect can be further differentiated from several similar terms that describe different types of negligence which may overlap with it or be confused with it at times.

As per Merriam-Webster, neglect is the act or state of neglecting or of being neglected; especially: failure to perform some duty or give some care or attention as required by law, obligation, custom, etc. Inattention is the action of giving little or no attention; a lack of due care. The difference between neglect and inattention is that neglect includes any failure to perform a duty whereas attention includes only a lack of due care.

It means that ignoring someone would be called inattention while ignoring someone's needs would be called neglect. If you ignore your child's needs then it is neglect but if you ignore your friend who asks for help then it is inattention. For example: If your friend asks for help but you do not pay attention to him then it is an example of inattention but if he asks for help and you do not attend to his need then it is an example of neglect. The key difference between these two words is that one involves a legal obligation (neglect) while another does not (inattention).

You can say that neglect is more serious than inattention because of its legal implications. Both neglect and inattention are synonyms of apathy which mean that apathy refers to a feeling or showing no interest in something. Apathy is similar to indifference but indifference indicates an unwillingness to get involved with something rather than simply a lack of interest. So we can say that both neglect and inattention are negative feelings or emotions toward someone or something.

To sum up, we can say that difference between neglect and inattention is like comparing negligence with inadvertence where negligence implies reckless disregard for consequences while inadvertence suggests unintentional mistakes made without forethought which have resulted from distraction rather than willful negligence. However, unlike negligence, inadvertence is usually excused as long as there was no malicious intent behind it. Another difference between neglect and inattention is that inattention has much less intensity than neglect.

Neglect vs Inattention

What’s The Difference?: According to Merriam-Webster, neglect is defined as the condition of being neglected; or failing to attend or care for. It’s something that gets ignored over time or is not given any attention at all. While inattention refers to failure to give proper or adequate attention; or lack of consideration. Examples: Let's say you have a dog and your mom (who lives with you) hates animals. Over time, she may start leaving your dog outside whenever she goes on vacation even though it begins to rain in fear that he'll ruin her nice furniture if she brings him inside.

That's neglect vs. If you have a job where you need to work overtime every night, but your family needs help around the house, then you might be so tired from working all day that you stop doing chores around your house. This would be an example of inattention. It's important to note that there are many types of abuse and neglect out there including emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and more. If someone feels like they're being abused or neglected by someone they love, then they should seek help immediately because there are laws put into place to protect victims from their abusers.

Difference Between Neglect and Inattention in Tabular Form

Table: Neglect vs Inattention
Basis for comparison
The definition of neglect is to fail to provide for one's needs or obligations.
Inattention means to accidentally give no consideration to critical perspectives
Latin word
French word
Know from
16th century
17th century
Neglect is a negative word.
Inattention is a neutral word.

What is Neglect?

The definition of neglect is to fail to provide for one's needs or obligations. Lack of proper care, supervision, or attention to a child may be considered neglect if it results in physical, emotional, educational, or medical harm. Failure to meet financial responsibilities such as paying rent or utilities could also be considered neglect depending on circumstances. The key element of neglect is that it must result in harm. As such, failure to follow through with an obligation like taking a sick child to school because you had no car that day would not constitute legal neglect; however, if your failure resulted in further illness for your child (for example), then you may have a case against you. When determining whether neglect has occurred, courts will consider several factors including 1) how serious the alleged harm was 2) how long it lasted 3) whether there was any previous history of similar conduct 4) whether there were other contributing factors 5) what services have been provided since 6) whether there are any mental health issues involved 7) age and maturity level 8) parental cooperation 9) willingness to help 10) other children's well-being 11). You should seek advice from a qualified attorney if you feel that you are being accused of neglecting your children. It is important to remember that people often disagree about what constitutes normal parenting practices so keep emotions out of disputes over child custody matters.

Types of Neglect

There are three types of neglect that can occur in a child: physical, emotional, and educational. Physical neglect refers to a parent not providing their child with adequate food, clothing, shelter, or healthcare. Children who live in homes where there is domestic violence often suffer from physical neglect as well. Emotional neglect occurs when a parent (or caregiver) fails to provide for his or her child's emotional needs. This could include talking about important things with your child or playing/teaching them how to play with others. Educational neglect happens when parents do not get their children appropriate care and attention from a teacher (in an educational setting). While all three types of neglect should be taken seriously, physical and emotional are more serious than educational. These two forms of neglect have greater potential to cause long-term harm to a child. If you suspect that a child has been neglected, it is important to contact authorities immediately. If you know someone who has been convicted of neglecting a child, it is also wise to contact authorities if you believe they will continue to pose a threat to their children or other people around them. It's never too late for someone to change their lives and seek help for themselves and their family members - even if they've already been charged with neglect. For example, one mother was arrested after she left her young son alone at home while she went out drinking.

What is Inattention?

Sometimes, it can be easy to get worked up about what you believe is neglect on your partner’s part. A lot of couples go through times when one person feels that their partner doesn’t pay enough attention to them. Remember, though, that inattention isn’t necessarily neglected, especially if your other half has expressed a desire to show more affection or spend more time with you but hasn’t had much success doing so. Instead of feeling like they're constantly ignoring you, recognize how difficult it might be for them to change bad habits or how out of their element they may feel in certain situations. Be patient and understand that even minor changes take time. Just because someone isn't paying attention to you right now doesn't mean they don't love you or want to improve things—it just means they need some help getting there. If you're concerned about whether your partner's lack of attention is due to something bigger than laziness or disinterest, then talk to them openly and ask them if they would benefit from seeking professional counseling. You can also talk to a professional counselor yourself, who will likely be able to provide insight into why your partner might not seem as interested as you'd like him/her to be. If all else fails, consider taking some space from each other for a while so that both parties have an opportunity to work on themselves individually before reconnecting again as a couple.

Types of Inattention

Attention deficit disorder is primarily separated into three types: hyperactive, inattentive, and impulsive. But it's common for people to experience symptoms of multiple types. Symptoms of inattention tend to be present in most children before they reach adolescence, but not everyone who experiences symptoms is diagnosed with ADD/ADHD. Because there are so many potential causes of attention difficulties (environmental factors, medication, or substance use) it’s important to see a doctor if you’re concerned about your child's concentration or attention skills. Doctors will evaluate physical conditions that may cause ADHD-like symptoms and conduct psychological tests to determine whether your child has ADD/ADHD. Children with ADHD often have problems learning how to read, spell, write, solve math problems and pay attention at school. They also have trouble following directions from teachers or parents, which can make them appear oppositional when they're just having trouble focusing on what needs to be done. If your child seems distracted all day long without explanation—or shows signs of inattention—consulting a professional can help rule out other causes of behavior issues and determine whether he might benefit from treatment options like medication or therapy. It's also important to know that kids with ADHD typically grow up to be adults with ADD/ADHD. According to one study, 85 percent of children ages 7–9 who were diagnosed with ADHD still had symptoms as teens; 80 percent continued to exhibit symptoms as adults. While certain medications can reduce hyperactivity and impulsivity in kids, none are approved by the FDA for treating adult ADHD patients. As such, doctors rely on therapy and non-pharmaceutical treatments such as occupational therapy when treating adults suffering from ADD/ADHD. A licensed therapist can assess an adult patient's condition and create an individualized plan based on her specific needs.

Main Difference Between Neglect and Inattention in Points

  • Neglect indicates spending no attention to crucial aspects deliberately.
  • Inattention indicates bearing no attention to important aspects unintentionally.
  • The term neglect was formed from the Latin word.
  • The phrase inattention was created from the French word.
  • The term neglect has been understood since the 16th century.   
  • The expression inattention has existed comprehended since the 17th C.
  • Neglect is a pessimistic comment.      
  • Inattention is a half hearted remark.
  • The synonyms of the term neglect are ease and skip.     
  • The synonyms of the expression inattention are distraction and fixation.


If a parent is physically present but doesn’t pay enough attention to their child, they may be guilty of inattention rather than neglect. If a parent ignores phone calls or fails to attend school meetings, it may not be due to negligence, but because of distraction. Distraction doesn’t necessarily mean that your child has suffered as a result, which is why judges prefer charges of inattention over neglect. While there is no legal distinction between neglect and inattention, most parents would agree that one describes carelessness while the other points to something more serious. Whether you believe that your ex-spouse is guilty of neglect or inattention depends on how much time you think he/she spends with your children and how much support he/she provides. Most courts will order visitation time for both parents regardless of whether they find evidence of either type of carelessness. Both types can also lead to an order for supervised visitation if either party has committed any acts that put their children at risk (such as abuse). Ultimately, you must focus on providing your children with whatever type of environment you feel best suits them. This means spending ample time with them so they can receive proper attention from both parties if need be. Regardless of what happens in court, parenting effectively requires dedication and effort—and kids are worth every second!


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"Difference Between Neglect and Inattention." Diffzy.com, 2023. Sun. 02 Apr. 2023. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-neglect-and-inattention-797>.

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