What is Abuse?

Definitions | Reporting Abuse | Statistics | Driving with Children

Can you recognize the signs of an abused child?

The key component in helping abused children find the help and safety that they need is to first be able to recognize the signs and symptoms they may be portraying. Even though no physical symptoms may be seen upon first glance, this does not mean that these signs are not being covered up, or that other types of abuse or neglect are occuring. Often times there are actually combinations of forms of abuse and/or neglect that are happening concurrently. Whether you are a teacher, counselor, doctor, caseworker, attorney, parent, or just a good citizen within your community, being able to recognize child abuse and neglect can be extremely beneficial in the prevention of these at a local, state, and national level.

Recognizing Child Abuse

The Child

-Shows sudden changes in behavior or school performance
-Has not received help for physical or medical problems brought to the parents’ attention
-Has learning problems that cannot be attributed to specific physical or psychological causes
-Is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen
-Lacks adult supervision
-Is overly compliant, an overachiever, or too responsible
-Comes to school early, stays late, and does not want to go home


The Parent/Perpetrator

-Shows little concern for the child, rarely repsonding to the school’s requests for information, for conferences, or for home visits
-Denies the existence of, or blames the child for, the child’s problems in school or at home
-Asks the classroom teacher to use harsh physical discipline if the child misbehaves
-Sees the child as entirely bad, worthless, or burdensome
-Demands perfection or a level of physical or academic performance the child cannot achieve
-Looks primarily to the child for care, attention, and satisfaction of emotional needs

The Child and Parent/Perpetrator

-Rarely touch or look at each other
-Consider their relationship entirely negative
-State that they do not like each other

Signs of Neglect

The Child

-Is frequently absent from school
-Begs or steals food or money from classmates or others
-Lacks needed medical or dental care, immunizations, or glasses
-Is consistently dirty and has severe body odor
-Lacks sufficient clothing for weather
-Abuses alcohol or other drugs
-States there is no one at home to provide care

The Parent/Perpetrator

-Appears to be indifferent to the child
-Seems apathetic or depressed
-Behaves irrationally or in a bizarre manner
-Is abusing alcohol or other drugs

Signs of Physical Abuse

The Child

-Has unexplained burns, bites, bruises, broken bones, or black eyes
-Has fading bruises or other marks noticeable after an absence from school
-Seems frightened of the parents and protests or cries when it is time to go home from school/care
-Shrinks at the approach of adults
-Reports injury by a parent or another adult caregiver

The Parent/Perpetrator

-Offers conflicting, unconvincing, or no explanation for the child’s injury
-Describes the child as “evil” or in some other negative way
-Uses harsh physical discipline with the child
-Has a history of abuse as a child

Signs of Emotional Abuse

The Child

-Shows extremes in behavior, such as overly compliant or demanding behavior, extreme passivity or aggression
-Is either inappropriately adult (parenting other children, for example) or inappropriately infantile (frequently rocking or head-banging, for example)
-Is delayed in physical or emotional development
-Has attempted suicide
-Reports a lack of attachment to the parent

The Parent/Perpetrator

-Constantly blames, belittles, or berates the child
-Is unconcerned about the child and refuses to consider offers of help for the child’s school problems
-Overtly rejects the child

Signs of Sexual Abuse

The Child

-Has difficulty walking or sitting
-Suddenly refuses to change for gym or to participate in physical activities
-Demonstrates bizarre, sophisticated, or unusual sexual knowledge or behaviour
-Becomes pregnant or contracts a venereal disease, particularly if under age fourteen
-Runs away
-Reports sexual abuse by a parent or another adult caregiver

The Parent/Perpetrator

-Is unduly protective of the child, severely limits the child’s contact with other children, especially of the opposite sex
-Is secretive and isolated
-Describes marital difficulties involving family power struggles or sexual relations
NOTE: None of these signs prove that child abuse is present in a family. Any of them may be found in any parent/guardian or child at one time or another. These are also not the only signs that may exist if a child is being abused or neglected. If the signs are found repeatedly or in combination, they should cause the concerned individual to examine the situation closer and consider the possibility of child abuse. A second look may reveal even more signs.
Find this and more information about signs/symptoms of abuse and neglect at PCA America’s website www.preventchildabuse.org.