physical abuse: hitting, throwing, burning, tying up a child,
shaking a baby, or other ways of physically hurting her.
emotional abuse: ignoring a child, scaring her on purpose, making
her feel worthless or guilty, etc.
sexual abuse: touching or kissing her private parts, forcing
her to undress or have sex, taking pornographic pictures of her, etc.
physical neglect: starving a child, locking her in a closet,
leaving her unsupervised for periods of time, not taking care of her when
she is sick, etc.
Every kind of child abuse is against the law.
What are the physical signs?
All children get scratches and bruises from normal play and falls. Not all
children with bruises, burns, etc. are being abused.
Not all children who are abused show physical signs of abuse. Look for other
signs of abuse as well.
Not all children with these signs are being abused. These are sometimes
signs of abuse:
Bruises in different stages of healing
Bruises on the face, lips, mouth, back, bottom, thighs, or genitals
Bruises in the shape of a belt buckle, electrical cord, or other item
that can be used to hit a child
Bruises after a child has been absent from school or daycare
Cigar or cigarette burns (especially on hands, feet, back, or bottom)
Burns that look like a child's hand, foot, etc. was held under hot water
Burns in the shape of hot items, such as a cigarette lighter, iron,
Other unexplained burns
Child has difficulty walking or sitting
Torn or bloody underwear
Pain with urination or has to go to bathroom often
Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
Swollen, red, or itchy genital area (or discharge from genital area)
Always has a stomach ache or vomiting
Fails to gain weight, loses weight
Dirty clothes, clothes that are not right for the weather
Child does not get medical or dental care when needed
Wetting pants even if potty trained
What are the behavioral signs? An abused child may not show these behavioral signs until years after the
abuse has happened. If you suspect a child is being abused, look for these signs
but keep in mind that children under stress (from parents divorcing, a move,
or other life-changing event) also may show these symptoms:
Self-destructive (does things to hurt herself or her future)
Talks about suicide
Withdrawn, doesn't make friends, doesn't like affection or being close to
Fearful of new people and activities
Has trouble with schoolwork
Worry, anxiety, sadness, depression
Drug or alcohol abuse
Avoids going home after school
Is fearful of certain adults
Often thinks she deserves to be punished
Is scared when other children cry
Infants who lie very still while looking all around
Knows more about sex than she should for her age
Often rubs or scratches the genitals
Is always looking for affection, tries to please
Sleeping or eating problems
Talks about having a secret
Acting much younger than her age
Unusual habit (sucking, biting, rocking)
Who can be abusive?
Any person can abuse a child; a man, woman, teenager, girlfriend, teacher,
A person of any age, gender, race, or class can be abusive.
An abusive person may avoid parents or co-workers.
An abusive person may avoid school and work activities.
An abusive person may seem uncomfortable talking about the child's injuries
or problems. (They may have strange or unbelievable explanations for the child's
bruises. Their explanations may be different from the child's.)
An abusive person may have been abused as a child.
The person may abuse drugs or alcohol.
The person may be isolated (have few family, friends, or other support group).
The person may lead a stressful life (working a lot, money problems, marital
The person may be very strict with the child. They may be hard on the child.
The person may show very little concern for the child.
What should I do if I think a child is being abused?
If a child starts telling you she is being abused, sit still and be a good
listener. Stay calm.
When she is done talking, ask if there is anything else she wants to say.
Do not ask too many specific questions. It could confuse her. If your child
is confused, it will be harder for police to prove she is being abused.
Tell her she was right to tell you and that you believe her. The abuse is
not her fault. Reassure her that you will protect her.
After talking to the child, write down everything she told you.
Take the child to the doctor for an exam, even if she looks healthy.
Keep the child away and other children from that person or place until you
know it is safe.
If you suspect abuse, you must report it. The child's life could be in danger.
Teachers, child-care staff, and other professionals who work with children
are required by law in most states to report suspected abuse.
Contact the police, hospital, or a local child protective services agency
Many states have hotlines that a person can call to report abuse without
giving their name. Check your phonebook.
Write down the date, time, and name of the person you reported the abuse
to. Call back in a week to see what has been done.
How is the family treated?
The whole family will likely need support if a child has been abused.
Early treatment is best. The abused child needs immediate protection.
The child may need therapy. Therapy
can help her learn how to trust others and help her build her self-esteem.
Parents and others who are abusive need professional help, too.
How can I protect my child? Take steps to protect your child from abuse and teach your child how to
If you become angry with a child, put her in a safe place and walk away.
Give yourself a time-out. Take deep breaths and relax. Do not go back
to the child until you have calmed down.
If possible, call a friend or relative so you can take a break.
If your family needs help, ask. If you are stressed out, you will be
less patient with your child.
If you need help with money, housing, employment, etc., call your doctor
or a social service agency for help.
Attend a parenting class.
Learn anger management or relaxation techniques. Ask your doctor.
Babies with special needs demand more attention and patience. Ask friends
and relatives to help out. Join a support group.
Take care of yourself and you will be able to take better care of the
Never shake a baby. Shaking a baby can lead to brain damage and death.
Call the doctor, a friend, or other help if you think you might hurt
Teach your child about the different kinds of abuse. Use a children's
book to help you.
Teach children that if they are ever touched or treated wrongly, they
should tell a trusted adult right away.
Children must never keep abuse a secret. Tell children that if an adult
does something wrong then asks the child to keep it a secret, she should
tell another adult.
Teach kids that if an adult asks them to do something they think is
wrong, it's okay to say no.
Take your child seriously if she tells you she is being abused. Look
into it even if you trust the person your child names (even if it is a
When should I call the doctor?
If you think you have abused a child, ask a friend or doctor for help.
If you suspect a child is being abused, call the doctor. The doctor will
be able to tell you how to report it. Many states have hotlines that a person
can call to report abuse without giving their name. Check your phonebook.
Call the doctor if you have hurt a child or shaken a baby. The child or
baby will need to see a doctor right away.
Call the doctor if you have questions about abuse.
There are four kinds of child abuse: physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual
abuse, and neglect.
An abused child may have unusual bruises, burns, or infections.
The child may be withdrawn, disruptive, or fearful of going home.
Abusive parents may seem uncomfortable about talking about their child's
If you suspect a child is being abused, you must report it. The child could
be in danger.
If the child is being abused, she needs protection and may need therapy.
Teach your child about abuse. Tell her it is never okay for someone to touch
her in bad ways. She should tell a trusted adult if someone ever hurts her.
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Child Abuse: The Hidden
Buises. URL: http;//www.aacap.org/publications/factsfam/chldabus.htm/ 1998
August (cited 2002 May 14).
CDC. Intentional Injuries: Child Abuse. 1997 January (cited 2002 May 14).
Eller CL. Child Abuse. University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension.
1995 July (cited 2002 May 22). URL: http://www.nncc.org/Abuse/abuse.child.abuse.html
Robins P. Recognizing Signs of Child Abuse. KidsHealth. URL: http://kidshealth.org/pageManager.jsp?dn=KidsHealth&lic=1&ps=107&cat_id=168&article_set=21925
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