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Child Abuse: Know the Warning Signs & Make a Difference
Posted by Emily Pazel

Every child deserves a warm bed and the unconditional love and support of a family.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the scenario for many children. In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 1 in 4 adults have been physically abused as a child.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, a month dedicated to bringing awareness about and sharing ways to prevent child abuse, according to a national proclamation that was released by President Donald Trump in March.

Child abuse is a worldwide problem with serious, life-long consequences. By definition, child maltreatment is the abuse and neglect that occurs to children under 18 years of age. Child abuse is defined by a vast spectrum of abuse that included physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, negligence, and commercial or other exploitation, which results in the harm of the child’s life.

Worldwide Statistics

Although current estimates vary widely depending on the country and the method of research used, WHO international studies have concluded that:

  • A quarter of all adults report having been physically abused as children

  • 1 in 5 women and 1 in 13 men report having been sexually abused as a child

  • Consequences of child maltreatment include impaired lifelong physical and mental health, and the social and occupational outcomes can ultimately slow a country's economic and social development

  • Preventing child maltreatment before it starts is possible and requires a multispectral approach

  • With effective prevention programs, parents can receive proper support and teach positive parenting skills

  • Ongoing care of children and families can reduce the risk of maltreatment reoccurring and can minimize its consequences

Symptoms of Child Abuse

When a child is being abused, they may feel guilty, ashamed or confused, according to studies with the Mayo Clinic. Most of the time, he or she may be even afraid to tell someone about the abuse, especially if the abuser is a close relative. Here are a few signs or red flags to look out for:

  • Withdrawal from friends or usual activities

  • Changes in behavior — such as aggression, anger, hostility or hyperactivity — or changes in school performance

  • Depression, anxiety or unusual fears, or a sudden loss of self-confidence

  • An apparent lack of supervision

  • Unexplained injuries, such as bruises, factures or burns

  • Injuries that don’t match the give explanation

  • Frequent absences from school

  • Reluctance to leave school activities

  • Attempts at running away

  • Rebellious or defiant behavior

  • Self-harm or attempts at suicide

Sometimes, the parents’ behavior can be a giveaway when it comes to child abuse. There’s a few warning signs that you can be on the lookout for, such as the parent showing little concern for the child or blaming the child for problems. Other signs include belittling or berating the child, using harsh disciplines, or severely limits the child’s contact with others.

It’s important to note that when it comes to parenting, child health experts condemn the use of violence in any form. Some parent insist on using corporal punishments, such as spanking, to discipline their children. However, parental behaviors that cause pain, physical injury or emotional trauma could be considered child abuse.

Consequences of Child Abuse

The result of child abuse can cause intense pain to children and their families, as well as have long-term consequences. It also causes stress, which can impact the child’s early brain development. Extreme stress can also impair the development of the nervous and immune systems.

Children that are abused, consequently, are at an increased risk to grow up as adults with physical and mental health problems such as:

  • Perpetrating or being a victim of violence

  • Depression

  • Smoking

  • Obesity

  • High-risk sexual behaviors

  • Unintended pregnancy

  • Alcohol and drug misuse

Not only do they face health and social consequences, there’s an increased risk associated with economic impact, including costs of hospitalization, mental health treatment, child welfare, and longer-term health costs.


There are important steps that you can take to protect your child from exploitation and child abuse, as well as prevent child abuse from happening to others in your community. Ultimately, the goal is to be able to provide a safe, stable, nurturing environment for children.

Here are preventative steps that you can take:

  • Offer Love & Attention –  When you offer love and attention to your child, you can develop trust and good communication; listen and be involved in his or her life and encourage your child to tell you if there’s an issue; a supportive family environment can foster your child’s self-esteem and sense of self-worth

  • Control Your Emotions – If you start to feel overwhelmed or losing control of your anger, take a break and take deep breaths; be careful not to take out your anger on your child; take control of the situation and talk with your doctor or therapist about ways you can learn to cope with stress and better interact with your child

  • Supervision – If the child is too young, do not leave them at home alone; if in public, be sure to keep a close eye them; become involved at school and other activities and get to know the adults who spend time with your child; when the child is old enough to go without supervision, encourage your child to stay away from strangers and to hang out with friends rather than be alone

  • Get to Know Caregivers – Whenever you need to get a babysitter or other caregivers involved, be sure to check references; make irregular, but frequent, unannounced visits to observe what’s happening while you’re away; try not to allow substitutes for your usual child care provider unless you’ve done your due diligence

  • When to Say “No” – When your child is put into an uncomfortable or scary situation, be sure that they understand that he or she can say “no”; encourage them to leave a threatening or frightening situation immediately and call for help from a trusted adult; If something did happen, be sure to encourage your child to talk to you or another trusted adult

  • Online Safety – Make sure the computer is in a common area of the house where the child can be monitored, if necessary, while using the computer; set parental controls to restrict the types of website your child can visit and check the privacy settings on social media accounts; if your child is secretive about being online, you should consider this a red flag; be sure to cover ground rules, such as not sharing personal information online, not responding to inappropriate, hurtful or frightening messages; if an unknown person makes contact with them, be sure to report it to the service provider and the local authorities, if necessary

  • Get Involved – A great way to make sure that your child’s safety is being met is by meeting the other families in your neighborhood, joining a support group to have appropriate place to vent your frustrations, and develop a network of support family and friends in case others might be struggling as well

If you know a child that displays symptoms or signs of being abused, you should alert the authorities right away.

If you’re concerned that you might abuse your own child, seek help immediately. These organizations can provide information and referrals for help:

  • Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)

  • Prevent Child Abuse America: 1-800-CHILDREN (1-800-244-5373)

No matter the situation, if you were abused as a child, you should visit a doctor and receive counseling to ensure that you don’t continue the abuse cycle or accidentally teach those destructive behaviors to your child.