Any intentional harm or mistreatment to a child under 18 years old is considered child abuse. Child abuse takes many forms, which often occur at the same time.
In many cases, child abuse is done by someone the child knows and trusts — often a parent or other relative. If you suspect child abuse, report the abuse to the proper authorities.
A child who’s being abused may feel guilty, ashamed or confused. The child may be afraid to tell anyone about the abuse, especially if the abuser is a parent, other relative or family friend. That’s why it’s vital to watch for red flags, such as:
Specific signs and symptoms depend on the type of abuse and can vary. Keep in mind that warning signs are just that — warning signs. The presence of warning signs doesn’t necessarily mean that a child is being abused.
Sometimes a parent’s demeanor or behavior sends red flags about child abuse. Warning signs include a parent who:
Child health experts condemn the use of violence in any form, but some people still use physical punishment, such as spanking, to discipline their children. While parents and caregivers often use physical punishment with the intention of helping their children or making their behavior better, research shows that spanking is linked with worse, not better, behavior. It’s also linked to mental health problems, difficult relationships with parents, lower self-esteem and lower academic performance.
Any physical punishment may leave emotional scars. Parental behaviors that cause pain, physical injury, or emotional trauma — even when done in the name of discipline — could be child abuse.
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Treatment can help both children and parents in abuse situations. The first priority is ensuring the safety and protection for children who have been abused. Ongoing treatment focuses on preventing future abuse and reducing the long-term psychological and physical consequences of abuse.
If necessary, help the child seek appropriate medical care. Seek immediate medical attention if a child has signs of an injury or a change in consciousness. Follow-up care with a health care provider may be required.
Talking with a mental health professional can:
Several different types of therapy may be effective, such as:
Psychotherapy also can help parents:
If you need help because you’re at risk of abusing a child or you think someone else has abused or neglected a child, take action immediately.
You can start by contacting your health care provider, a local child welfare agency, the police department, or a child abuse hotline for advice. In the United States, you can get information and assistance by calling or texting the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).
If a child tells you he or she is being abused, take the situation seriously. The child’s safety is most important. Here’s what you can do: