Nine Signs of Abuse in Children

Child abuse doesn't only affect the sufferer, but the entire environment where the abuse is inflicted. An abused child may become an abuser in the future.
Nine Signs of Abuse in Children

Written by Thady Carabaño

Last update: 26 May, 2022

It’s overwhelming to think that a child, an innocent and vulnerable being, can be attacked and hurt by their loved ones. Unfortunately, abuse in children is more common than we’d like to imagine. It may even occur right before our eyes, in our community, and even within our own family.

Child abuse occurs in all socioeconomic levels, cultures, and genders. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, (WHO ), a quarter of all adults report having suffered physical abuse as children. In other words, 25% of men and women have been hurt during their childhood.

Fortunately, there are some warning signs that can help detect it.

A neglected child.

How to Detect Abuse in Children

Beyond the obvious, you might be asking yourself if shouting at or spanking a child is considered abuse. To have a clearer picture, you can review the types of abuses that are considered harmful to children’s physical and mental health:

  • Emotional and psychological abuse: This involves not showing a child affection, not tending to their emotional needs, and rejecting them when they seek attention. This abuse includes insults and telling a child that they’re worthless again and again or demonstrating this through your behavior. It also includes isolating a child from their family or social environment. It is often the most difficult type of abuse to detect and the least understood.
  • Physical abuse: This involves inflicting injuries on a child. However, these injuries may not be limited to blows, but may also include physical punishment or any type of physical neglect that may require medical care.
  • Physical or emotional neglect: This involves abandoning a child or not tending to any of their needs. It includes not meeting a child’s basic needs, such as food, housing, clothing, education, medical care, and protection. This neglect may also be emotional.
  • Sexual abuse: This involves the performance of a wide variety of sexual acts on a child, which may even include threats or verbal insults.

Nine Signs of Abuse in Children

“Every night I heard the children’s screams and something I believed to be strong blows,” said one mother regarding her neighbors. Since she suspected child abuse, she called the authorities. Unfortunately, they verified the situation.

“When a 7-year-old boy opened the door and I saw his lively and sweet appearance, I thought it was impossible that he was being abused,” said the mother.

Intuition often helps people detect harmful situations. However, it isn’t enough to detect whether a child is being abused or not.

When a child lives with a toxic family, there are patterns of abusive behavior. Here are nine signs of abuse in children. Let’s review each one of them.

Take a look at this article: Toxic Families and Their Characteristics

1. Developmental Regression

Abused children may engage in behaviors that are characteristic of younger ages. Some examples are thumb-sucking, bed-wetting, fear of the dark, or fear of strangers.

2. Avoiding Certain Places and People

An abused child may express apprehension or anxiety. They may also demonstrate signs of anxiety or fear when returning home.

Likewise, they may show an unusual fear of a particular person or place.

3. Eating disorders

An abused child who doesn't want to eat his vegetables.

The stress, fear, and anxiety that abuse causes can lead to changes in a child’s eating behaviors. This can result in significant weight loss or gain.

4. Sleep disorders

An abused child may show signs of tiredness or fatigue due to having difficulties falling asleep.

5. Poor academic performance or perfectionism

A child who doesn't want to do his homework.

Excessive absences and inattentiveness in class may be signs of abuse in children.

On the other hand, some abused children may also strive for perfectionism as a way to seek the love and support they are not receiving at home.

6. Lack of personal care and hygiene

Abused children may seem neglected. They may also seem unkempt and not wear proper clothing for the weather.

7. Risky behavior

Children who are abused can dare to experiment with high-risk activities such as consuming drugs, drinking alcohol, or carrying weapons.

8. Inappropriate sexual behavior

An uncommunicative child.

Children who have been abused may exhibit overly sexual behavior. They may even use extremely explicit sexual language.

9. Unexplained injuries

The frequent occurrence of burns or bruises can be signs of abuse in children, especially if the explanations of said injuries are unconvincing.

What to Do

Overall, these nine things we mentioned above only warning signs of abuse in children. However, if it’s proven that a child is being abused, you should act. Even if it’s not, it’s important to ensure that the child is getting the support that he or she may need.

Contact the police, a psychologist or the school counselor. It’s the right thing to do.

Adult Survivors of Child Abuse

A scared child.

Sometimes, children don’t even realize that they’re being abused. In most cases, their own parents or close family members they assume love them are the ones who inflict the abuse. Thus, the psychological impact is greater, which is why its invisible scars can remain into child’s adulthood.

Depending on the type of abuse that was inflicted on them, an adult survivor of child abuse may suffer from any of the following psychological problems:

  • Anxiety: Those who have been abused may be afraid of people or situations that remind them of the abuse they suffered. They may fear sexual intimacy, have compulsive behaviors, and suffer from panic attacks.
  • Anger: They may feel intense anger toward their abusers and even themselves, particularly when they believe they should have stopped the abuse.
  • Self-destructive behavior: An abused adult can become addicted to drugs and alcohol. They may even hurt themselves and even sabotage any professional and emotional development opportunities.

Unfortunately, the most tragic ironic thing that can happen to a person who suffered child abuse is that they become an abuser as an adult. It’s a vicious cycle that can span generations.

Overcoming Abuse in Children

An abused child crying.

Psychological intervention can reverse the effects of abuse and allow early emotional healing. Generally, this allows the sufferer to explore feelings of anger, pain, frustration, and fear that affect them to regain a sense of safety.

In addition to psychotherapy, meditation techniques, role play, and support groups can also be helpful. Art can also allow the development of hidden artistic talents that emerge during healing.

Art for healing.

Overall, parents should be aware of how much their upbringing can influence their children’s future. After all, they must always keep in mind that the person they’re raising will become an adult. Then, they’ll raise their own family with what they know to be love, care, and respect.

This is why you should be attentive to your parenting techniques and how you were raised as a child. Above all, you should seek professional guidance when you deem it necessary in order to ensure that patterns of abuse don’t continue.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.