The best way to protect your child from all forms of child abuse is learn about the signs of child abuse and how to put a stop to it. There are multiple types of child abuse, not all of them are easily spotted or leave visible marks on your child. Many children are able to heal and grow up healthy after recovering from being abuse with the help of a trusted adult in their lives.
More than bruises and broken bones
In understanding child abuse, it is important to realize that neglect is also abuse. Other silent or hidden types of child abuse include verbal, emotional, and sexual. All child abuse can leave scars on a child, either physically or emotionally. With a trusted adult and early intervention to stop the abuse, children often heal and break the cycle of abuse without continuing it.
Child abuse can come from all types of people across all ages, backgrounds, and professions. Most child abuse is done by someone the child’s caregiver knows. This includes older siblings, friends, family members, coaches, community leaders, and more. It is important to learn the signs of child abuse in order to best protect children in your community.
MYTH #1: It’s only abuse if it’s physically violent.
Not true, physical abuse is only one form of child abuse. Neglect and emotional abuse can be just as damaging, and since they are harder to spot or seen as “not as bad” most people will not intervene. The longer any child experiences any type of abuse, the higher chance there is of lasting damage.
Effects of Child Abuse
All types of child abuse and neglect leave lasting scars. Some of these scars might be physical, but emotional scarring has long lasting effects throughout life, damaging a child’s sense of self, ability to have healthy relationships, and ability to function at home, at work and at school. Some effects include:
MYTH #2: Abused children always grow up to be abusers.
While it is true that some abused children grow up to be abusers, it is also not that children who were not abused grow up to be abusers too. Abused children are more likely to repeat the cycle of violence as adults, not consciously repeating the behaviors they learned from abusive adults around them as children. This is not true for all or even more adult survivors of child abuse. Many survivors use their personal experience child abuse that they suffered as a strong motivation to protect their children from experiencing the same and become healthy parents.
MYTH #3: Only bad parents abuse their children.
It’s easy to think that only “bad people” abuse their children, while in everyday life it’s not always so black and white. Thinking only “bad people” abuse their children can keep us from protecting children from abuse because most of use won’t think to look towards our partners, family members, friends, and community leaders if we suspect child abuse. In fact, the majority of children are abused by someone their caregiver knows, if not their caregiver themselves. The reality is that caregivers who abuse their children may not realize they are abusing their children because that’s how the caregiver was raised, or they may be suffering from untreated behavioral health issues or addiction to drugs and alcohol.
Types of Child Abuse
There are several types of child abuse, but what ties them together as abuse is the emotional effect on the child. Children need predictability, structure, clear boundaries, and the knowledge that their caregivers are looking out for their safety. Abused children cannot predict how their caregivers will act. Abuse makes their world an unpredictable, frightening place with no rules. Whether the abuse is a slap, a harsh comment, stony silence, bad touching, or not knowing if there will be dinner on the table tonight, the end result is a child that feel unsafe, uncared for, and alone.
MYTH #4: Most child abusers are strangers.
Not true! For 2010 in Alaska, 98% of reported child sexual abuse was from someone the child knew. From the total amount of reported cases for 2010 which was 4,137 child sexual abuse perpetrators were parents (90%), unmarried parent of partner (4%), other relative (3%), foster parent (0.75%), legal guardian (0.2%), or known other (1.7%). Only 11 cases (0.3%) of child sexual abuse cases in 2010 for the state of Alaska the perpetrator had no or unknown relationship to the child.
Warning signs of child abuse and neglect
The earlier child abuse is caught, the better the chance of recovery and appropriate treatment for the child. Child abuse is not always obvious, especially when the abusers may be friends, family members, caregivers, or ever yourself. By learning some of the common warning signs of child abuse and neglect, you can catch the problem as early as possible and get both the child and the abuser the help that they need.
Of course, just because you see a warning sign doesn’t automatically mean a child is being abused. It’s important to dig deeper, looking for a pattern of abusive behavior and warning signs, if you notice something off. There are many organizations out there to help you if you suspect child abuse. Please check out our resource page for child advocacy centers.
Risk factors, or things usually linked with child abuse and neglect
While child abuse and neglect occurs in all types of families—even in those that look happy from the outside—children are at a much greater risk in certain situations.
Recognizing abusive behavior in yourself
If you need professional help…
Do you feel angry and frustrated and don’t know where to turn? In the U.S., call 1-800-4-A-CHILD to find support and resources in your community that can help you break the cycle of abuse.
Do you see yourself in some of these descriptions, painful as it may be? Do you feel angry and frustrated and don’t know where to turn? Raising children is one of life’s greatest challenges and can trigger anger and frustration in the most even tempered. If you grew up in a household where screaming and shouting or violence was the norm, you may not know any other way to raise your kids.
Recognizing that you have a problem is the biggest step to getting help. If you yourself were raised in an abusive situation, that can be extremely difficult. Children experience their world as normal. It may have been normal in your family to be slapped or pushed for little to no reason, or that mother was too drunk to cook dinner. It may have been normal for your parents to call you stupid, clumsy, or worthless. Or it may have been normal to watch your mother get beaten up by your father.
It is only as adults that we have the perspective to step back and take a hard look at what is normal and what is abusive. Read the above sections on the types of abuse and warning signs. Do any of those ring a bell for you now? Or from when you were a child? The following is a list of warning signs that you may be crossing the line into abuse:
How do you know when you’ve crossed the line?
Breaking the cycle of child abuse
If you have a history of child abuse, having your own children can trigger strong memories and feelings that you may have repressed. This may happen when a child is born, or at later ages when you remember specific abuse to you. You may be shocked and overwhelmed by your anger, and feel like you can’t control it. But you can learn new ways to manage your emotions and break your old patterns.
Remember, you are the most important person in your child’s world. It’s worth the effort to make a change, and you don’t have to go it alone. Help and support are available.
Tips for changing your reactions
Helping an abused or neglected child
What should you do if you suspect that a child has been abused? How do you approach him or her? Or what if a child comes to you? It’s normal to feel a little overwhelmed and confused in this situation. Child abuse is a difficult subject that can be hard to accept and even harder to talk about.
Just remember, you can make a tremendous difference in the life of an abused child, especially if you take steps to stop the abuse early. When talking with an abused child, the best thing you can provide is calm reassurance and unconditional support. Let your actions speak for you if you’re having trouble finding the words. Remember that talking about the abuse may be very difficult for the child. It’s your job to reassure the child and provide whatever help you can.
Tips for talking to an abused child
Reporting child abuse and neglect
If you suspect a child is being abused, it’s critical to get them the help he or she needs. Reporting child abuse seems so official. Many people are reluctant to get involved in other families’ lives.
Understanding some of the myths behind reporting may help put your mind at ease if you need to report child abuse
This page was informed by the Helpguide.org article “Child Abuse and Neglect” ©Helpguide.org. All rights reserved. Visit WWW.HELPGUIDE.ORG for more information and related articles.
* Statistics from the Reported Maltreatment Types of Victims, 2010 (PDF – 4140 KB) Children’s Bureau, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2011) In Child Maltreatment 2010