How to Recognize Signs of Child Abuse and What to Do About It

How to Recognize Signs of Child Abuse and What to Do About It

According to the National Children’s Alliance, each year an estimated 700,000 children in the United States suffer some form of neglect and/or abuse. Often, kids suffer in silence because it goes unnoticed or unreported.

Recognizing the signs of child abuse and knowing how to handle it can save the lives of the little ones we love. Here is what to look out for, and how you can help.

Types and Signs of Child Abuse

Abuse comes in a number of forms. Understanding each of them will help you better understand the signs of abuse from outside of the family unit.


People easily miss indications of child neglect because it does not look like violence. This occurs when the adult(s) fails to meet the child’s basic needs, including food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, and other crucial needs.

The signs of child neglect include:

  • Inappropriate attire for the weather
  • Left home alone for inappropriate amounts of time
  • Poor hygiene
  • Lacking medical needs, like immunizations, medications, or appropriate checkups
  • Often hungry
  • Stealing or begging for necessities like money or food

Neglected children often stand out, because they look dirty or smell unclean. They may also mention things that sound strange, like being left alone for a weekend.

Psychological Abuse

Psychological abuse attacks a child’s mental and emotional well-being. This occurs through fear tactics, humiliation, belittling, severe control, and isolation.

While the abuser does not directly cause physical harm, they do debilitate the child. They also make the child more likely to harm themselves.

The signs of psychological child abuse include:

  • Lack of self-efficacy
  • Difficulty controlling emotions
  • Trouble making friends or maintaining friendships
  • Use of age-inappropriate language
  • Lack of social skills
  • Extreme outbursts
  • Extreme anxiety and/or depression
  • Lack of parental attachment

You can tell the difference between shy kids and signs of mental abuse in children by their other behaviors. Listen to the way they speak to others and talk about themselves.

Physical Abuse

Non-accidental harm constitutes physical abuse, even when the abuser did not necessarily mean to hurt the child. This form of abuse can lead to serious injury or death.

Signs of physical abuse in children include:

  • Unexplained bruises, burns, bites, broken bones, or other injuries
  • Reoccurring injuries
  • Acting watchful or fearful if something bad is coming
  • Cowering as adults approach
  • Afraid of adults
  • Not wanting to ever go home
  • Wearing clothes that are out of season; long pants and sleeves in summer, to cover bruises.

Physically abused children will often protect the parent out of loyalty or fear. If their story does not add up to the injury, then they might be abused.

Sexual Abuse

This type of abuse ranges from taking inappropriate pictures of a child to sexually assaulting them. Signs of sexual abuse include:

  • Bedwetting
  • Demonstration of sexual knowledge or behavior
  • Changes in appetite
  • Trouble sitting
  • Strange attachment to the parent or caregiver

Sexually abused children may also portray the characteristics seen in other types of abuse.

It is often thought children who are sexually abused should be afraid of their abusers but this is not true.  The people abusing over gain their trust by doing nice acts in order for the abuse to occur. Abusers are most often people the children knows and loves, not strangers.

What to Do if You Suspect Child Abuse?

If you suspect abuse, listen carefully to the child and watch for discrepancies in their stories. Reassure them that they did nothing wrong at all and explain that you need to call for help.

Do not confront the abuser at all. Instead, report the child abuse immediately to DCFS 1-800-25-ABUSE and local Law Enforcement. Do not excessively question the child about the abuse, allow trained professionals to do this in a nontraumatic manner.

Protect Every Child

Do not turn a blind eye. Recognize the signs of child abuse and report any that you suspect, because it may save a life.

If you or a loved one are displaying abusive characteristics, help is available.  We offer individual counseling sessions as well as our CALM group to help teach healthy ways to manage anger.