Child abuse is a filthy truth that exists in our society, and is indeed a critical topic, but perhaps, more important is to recognize the signs of abuse in your child. This is often a very difficult task because kids go through a number of behavioral changes, making it difficult to associate a change in child’s behavior to abuse. Furthermore, children play a lot and get physical injuries – it is quite difficult to differentiate injuries inflicted by an abuser from the ones a child develops during rough play or contact sports.
That said, we try to break down the three kinds of abuses and help you recognize the warning signs for each of them. (Of course, it goes without saying that many of these symptoms, while they might indicate abuse, can also have perfectly normal explanations).
What Is Physical Child Abuse? What Are The Signs Of Physical Abuse?
Physical abuse generally appears on the body of the child, like on the face or the neck, thighs or lower body parts, and are distributed unevenly. If a child has been hit by a belt, you might notice rectangular patterns, if he has been burnt with a cigarette, you will notice on the soles of the feet, palms and abdomen.
Warning Signs Of Physical Abuse
- Recurring physical injuries: Watch out for patterns and recurring injuries in any particular body area. That said, always remember that kids play around and injure themselves a lot. Every scar should not worry you and neither should you doubt everyone
- Unexplained injuries: Children tend to be secretive about the abuse. If your child is older, examine any unexplained injury – even if not recurring. Also watch out for explanations that do not match the injuries
- Physical signs: While bruises and cuts can be from playing, there are few signs that might indicate otherwise – bite marks, scarring, burn marks (like a circular cigarette burn)
- Behavioral changes: A child who has been through a physical abuse can be aggressive, and exhibit signs of withdrawal or regression. The child could be depressed, and might fear some adult in excess. He may also dislike physical contact with anyone
What Is Emotional Child Abuse? What Are The Signs Of Emotional Abuse?
Children are emotionally very tender and emotional abuse can trigger a halt in the child’s development. If an adult ignores, insults and rejects a child, and do this consistently, then it can amount to emotional abuse.
Warning Signs Of Emotional Abuse
- Changes in sleeping patterns: An emotionally abused child might have difficulty falling asleep and might wake up often during sleep. If your child is constantly tired and lethargic, it could indicate sleeplessness
- Lack of self-confidence or self-esteem: An emotionally abused child will have either have a withdrawn personality or might be desperately seeking attention – both signs of low self-worth. Speech disorders are also observed in emotionally abused child
- Slow emotional development: An emotionally abused child will show delayed or unsuitable emotional development. He might also show signs of depression
- Parental behavior: If the abuser is a parent, you might notice that the parent shows no interest in the child, belittles the child publicly, confines the child to home and refuses the child to interact with others or gives unrealistic explanations for the child’s physical injuries
- Behavioral indicators: An emotionally abused child may seem to derive pleasure out of hurting others, he may mistreat others as he is mistreated. He may also resort to head banging and biting when upset
What Is Sexual Child Abuse? What Are The Signs Of Sexual Abuse?
Sexual abuse refers to multiple kinds of sexual activities involving children. This can include touching or fondling the kid’s genitals, making a kid touch the abuser’s genitals, seduction (both verbal and manual), child pornography, flashing genitals to a kid, forcing a child to perform a sexual act or force him to oral or penetrative sex.
Warning Signs Of Sexual Abuse
- Bruises in genital areas: Any injury around the genital areas should be taken very very seriously. It could be a tear, a nail or teeth mark or increased redness. If the child complains of pain or irritation in the genital area, it should be taken seriously. The child may have difficulty in walking
- Urinary Tract Infections: All UTIs are not signs of abuse. But UTI, coupled with some of the other symptoms listed here, should give you warning signs. Sexually transmitted diseases are also a serious matter
- Sexually-explicit behavior: Since an abused child is exposed to sexual activities inappropriate for his/her age, any sign of sexual behavior that is unfitting for their age should be watched out for
- Other ways of expression: A sexually abused child may leave clues that he/she hopes would make you aware of the situation. He might discuss broadly about the topic, or write/draw about sex or start treating their body as repulsive
- Behavioral changes: You might notice a sudden drop in academic performance of the child, or observe regressive behavior. Disturbed sleep, frequent bed wetting, fear of adults, or seductive behaviors are other signs of sexual abuse
Other General Indications Of Child Abuse
Apart from the warning sings mentioned above that are specific to certain types of abuses, please watch out for the following signs too:
- Fear: An abused child may fear leaving home from school or hate to go to school. If your child puts up a big fight to go to a relatives/friends’ house, it would be wise to talk with him
- Changes in behavior: Depression, regressive behavior, fear, anxiety, withdrawal, sudden outburst of anger, bed wetting, thumb sucking etc. are all some warning signs that something might not be right with your child
- Changes appetite: Sudden weight gain or drop by a child can indicate some kind of trouble. Some kids start eating more while others start to starve themselves. Any such change that persists after every weekend or vacation could be a sign of abuse
- Lack of concentration: Sudden and unexplained drop in grades or interest in studies could indicate loss of focus and concentration
- Self-harm: Abused children either hurt others or hurt themselves. They might cut themselves, or inflict self-harm in other ways. Some abused children derive pleasure from seeing others in pain and would resort to hurtful behavior
Though child abuse is a matter of shame for all of us, yet we cannot shut our eyes to atrocities happening to children worldwide. Parents are requested to look and fight the early signs of any abuse, as if parents do not notice, the abusers get more confident. An aware parent can definitely safeguard his child from abuse. If your child confides in you, or you suspect some foul play, keeping calm and supporting the child are the most important things you can do. Report any such emergency at: Childline India, 1098 – 24 hours 365 days a year.
www.beingtheparent.com has written extensively about child abuse before too.
- Read Child Abuse – The Ugly, Filthy Truth for an all comprehensive discussion on child abuse, the types and effects of child abuse and how to help your child and yourself in case of an abuse
- Read Educating Children on Sexual Abuse to understand how to ensure that your child is well acquainted with the different forms of sexual abuse
- Read our report on Good and Bad Touch to make your child aware of and differentiate between both kinds of touches
Beware and be aware!