Child abuse is not only a real day-to-day issue, it is also a the number one cause of depression, anxiety and distress in the life of a person. Some people are unable to trust others, be involved in close relationships, struggle to regulate their emotions and will even feel worthless for the rest of their lives. Child abuse is not only relevant to physical and sexual abuse, it is also relevant to emotional abuse or child neglect. Although it is true that some signs of child abuse are more recognizable than others, there are basic symptoms that anyone can pick up on to identify a case of child abuse. The earlier abused children get help, the greater chance they have to heal from their abuse and not perpetuate the cycle, so let’s go over some of these symptoms.
General Warning Signs:
- child seems detached or avoids caregiver;
- child is withdrawn, fearful or shows extreme behavior;
- frequent or unexplained injuries, bruises, welts or cuts. injuries may also appear to have a pattern, such as a hand or a stick mark
- child is often dirty, smells bad or is in inappropriate clothes for the temperature;
- frequent injuries and illnesses that are left untreated
- sudden and unexplained injuries that are left untreated;
- sudden and unexplained change in school performance, participation and attendance;
- child threatens or attempts to run away or commit suicide;
- unusual knowledge or interest in sexual acts;
- behavior that is inappropriately adult, or inappropriately infantile.
There are different types of child abuse that must be taken into consideration when attempting to evaluate a situation. Child neglect, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse are all different types of child abuse.
Child Neglect can be identified when a pattern of failing to provide for a child’s basic needs, whether it be adequate food, clothing, hygiene, or supervision is evident.
Emotional Abuse can be detected when a constant negative conversation is presented towards a child. Some examples of this are:
- Constant belittling, shaming, and humiliating a child.
- Calling names and making negative comparisons to others.
- Telling a child he or she is “no good,” “worthless,” “bad,” or “a mistake.”
- Frequent yelling, threatening, or bullying.
- Ignoring or rejecting a child as punishment, giving him or her the silent treatment.
- Limited physical contact with the child—no hugs, kisses, or other signs of affection.
- Exposing the child to violence or the abuse of others, whether it be the abuse of a parent, a sibling, or even a pet.
Physical Abuse is seen when physical harm or injury to the child is seen. This is not just relevant to intended strikes at a child, but also “disciplinary” harm such as using a belt or other inappropriate physical punishment.
Sexual Abuse is relevant to both the exposure and involvement of a child towards a sexual situation. This type of abuse is common in both boys and girls and is often found to be at the hand of someone they know and trust.
Child abuse is not always obvious. By learning some of the common warning signs of child abuse and neglect, you can catch the problem as early as possible and get both the child and the abuser the help that they need. Of course, just because you see a warning sign doesn’t automatically mean a child is being abused. It’s important to dig deeper, looking for a pattern of abusive behavior and warning signs, if you notice something off.
Warning signs of emotional abuse in children:
- Excessively withdrawn, fearful, or anxious about doing something wrong.
- Shows extremes in behavior (extremely compliant or extremely demanding; extremely passive or extremely aggressive).
- Doesn’t seem to be attached to the parent or caregiver.
- Acts either inappropriately adult (taking care of other children) or inappropriately infantile (rocking, thumb-sucking, tantruming).
Warning signs of physical abuse in children:
- Frequent injuries or unexplained bruises, welts, or cuts.
- Is always watchful and “on alert,” as if waiting for something bad to happen.
- Injuries appear to have a pattern such as marks from a hand or belt.
- Shies away from touch, flinches at sudden movements, or seems afraid to go home.
- Wears inappropriate clothing to cover up injuries, such as long-sleeved shirts on hot days.
Warning signs of neglect in children:
- Clothes are ill-fitting, filthy, or inappropriate for the weather.
- Hygiene is consistently bad (unbathed, matted and unwashed hair, noticeable body odor).
- Untreated illnesses and physical injuries.
- Is frequently unsupervised or left alone or allowed to play in unsafe situations and environments.
- Is frequently late or missing from school.
Warning signs of sexual abuse in children:
- Trouble walking or sitting.
- Displays knowledge or interest in sexual acts inappropriate to his or her age, or even seductive behavior.
- Makes strong efforts to avoid a specific person, without an obvious reason.
- Doesn’t want to change clothes in front of others or participate in physical activities.
- An STD or pregnancy, especially under the age of 14.
- Runs away from home.
If you are not certain, but suspect that there has been a case of abuse, you can call a hotline that will help you identify the case and keep your identity completely anonymous at (800) 252-5400. In fact, even when you report a case of abuse all of your information is kept confidential, and only released to agents of Child Protective Services and/or a court judge. Always try to know the name, age, and address of the child, along with as many details relevant to the abuse being reported as possible.