Child abuse reveals itself in more ways than just bruises and broken bones. Physical abuse might be the most common because it is most visible, but other types of abuse, such as emotional abuse and neglect, are just as devastating.
The earlier abused children can get help, the greater are the chances of them being able to heal and break the cycle—rather than perpetuate it. By learning about common signs of abuse and what you can do to intervene, you can make a huge difference in a child’s life.
Ignoring children’s needs, putting them in unsupervised, dangerous situations, or making a child feel worthless or stupid are also child abuse. Regardless of the type of child abuse, the result is serious emotional harm.
It’s not only abuse if it’s violent
Physical abuse is just one type of child abuse. Neglect and emotional abuse can be just as damaging, and since they are more subtle, others are less likely to intervene.
Not only bad people abuse their children
While it’s easy to say that only “bad people” abuse their children, it’s not always so black and white. Not all abusers are intentionally harming their children. Many have been victims of abuse themselves, and don’t know any other way to parent. Others may be struggling with mental health issues or a substance abuse problems.
Child abuse happens in “good” families too
Child abuse doesn’t only happen in poor families or bad neighbourhoods. It crosses all racial, economic, and cultural lines. Sometimes, families who seem to have it all from the outside are hiding a different story behind closed doors.
Not all child abusers are strangers
While abuse by strangers does happen, most abusers are family members or others close to the family.
Not all abused children grow up to be abusers
It is true that abused children are more likely to repeat the cycle as adults, unconsciously repeating what they experienced as children. On the other hand, many adult survivors of child abuse have a strong motivation to protect their children against what they went through and become excellent parents.
Here are 9 signs that may occur in abused child:
- Unexplained injuries
Visible signs of physical abuse may include unexplained burns or bruises in the shape of objects. You may also hear unconvincing explanations of a child’s injuries.
- Changes in behaviour
Abuse can lead to many changes in a child’s behaviour. Abused children often appear scared, anxious, depressed, withdrawn or more aggressive.
- Returning to earlier behaviours
Abused children may display behaviours shown at earlier ages, such as thumb-sucking, bed-wetting, fear of the dark or strangers. For some children, even loss of acquired language or memory problems may be an issue. Fear of going home. Abused children may express anxiety about leaving school or about going places with the person who is abusing them.
- Changes in eating
The stress, fear and anxiety caused by abuse can lead to changes in a child’s eating behaviours, which may result in weight gain or weight loss.
- Changes in sleeping
Abused children may have frequent nightmares or have difficulty falling asleep, and as a result may appear tired or fatigued.
- Changes in school performance and attendance
Abused children may have difficulty concentrating in school or have excessive absences, sometimes due to adults trying to hide the children’s injuries from authorities.
- Lack of personal care or hygiene
Abused and neglected children may appear uncared for. They may present as consistently dirty and have severe body odour, or they may lack sufficient clothing for the weather.
- Risk-taking behaviours
Young people who are being abused may engage in high-risk activities such as using drugs or alcohol or carrying a weapon.
- Inappropriate sexual behaviours
Children who have been sexually abused may exhibit overly sexualized behaviour or use explicit sexual language.
Some signs that a child is experiencing violence or abuse are more obvious than others. Trust your instincts. Suspected abuse is enough of a reason to contact the authorities. You do not need proof.