Basic Information Caregivers Need to Know
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. The safety of our children is a priority, so this is a good time to think and reflect about the child abuse problem. The best way to start is by understanding its definition.
How can we define child abuse?
Child abuse is described as a non-accidental physical injury resulting from punching, beating, kicking, biting, shaking, throwing, stabbing, choking, hitting, or burning. Scholarship differentiates four types of abuse: emotional (constant criticism, threats or rejection); physical (beating, kicking, biting, stabbing, and burning); sexual (penetration, incest, rape, sodomy, indecent exposure, and exploitation through prostitution); and neglect. All types of abuse have permanent consequences for our children.
What are the consequences of child abuse on children?
Child abuse has severe and long lasting effects on children. These effects include reduced brain development; head trauma; poor physical health such as cardiovascular disease, lung and liver disease, and hypertension; low self-esteem; depression; relationship difficulties, and risky behaviors during adolescence (juvenile delinquency, may include alcohol and drug abuse). Consequences can often be more serious if the abuse is prolonged, recurrent, and severe.
How do we know a child is being abused?
Although it is not easy to identify if a child is being abused, some signs may alert us. Common physical and behavioral signs of child abuse include:
- Injuries (bruises, burns, fractures, abdominal, or head injuries that cannot be explained)
- Genital pain or bleeding, a sexually transmitted disease
- Frightful behaviors such as nightmares, depression, or unusual fears
- Abdominal pain, bedwetting
- Extreme sexual behavior that is inappropriate for the child’s age
- Headaches or stomachaches with no medical reason
- Failure to gain weight
- Desperately affectionate conduct or social withdrawal
How can we prevent child abuse?
Child abuse prevention efforts should start at home by nurturing, caring, and protecting our children, particularly in early childhood. When your child misbehaves, it is important that you manage your feelings of frustration and anger without venting them on him or her. Avoid spanking a misbehaving child. Do not teach your child aggression and anger — rather, teach responsibility. Also, practice other effective ways to discipline your child (for example, withholding privileges or using time-out techniques). Recognize that children develop at different paces, so they may not understand what you are asking to do. Pay attention to your child’s feelings; you may want to find out how your child feels about something before scolding him or her.
If you think your child has been abused outside the home, get help immediately through your child’s pediatrician or a local child protective agency. To prevent child abuse, make sure you supervise and get involved in your child’s school activities. You should be allowed to help in the classroom as a volunteer and should be informed about staff changes.
Always pay careful attention to your child’s behavior!
Child Welfare Information Gateway. Children’s Bureau/ACYF/ACF/HHS. (2013). What is child abuse and neglect? Recognizing the signs and symptoms. Fact sheet. Retrieved online.
Child Welfare Information Gateway. Children’s Bureau/ACYF/ACF/HHS. (2013). Long-term consequences of child abuse and neglect. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children’s Bureau.
HealthyChildren.org. (2015). What to know about child abuse. Retrieved online.
HealthyChildren.org. (2015). Disciplining your child. Retrieved online.
Hines, D.A., & Malley-Morrison, K. (2005). Family Violence in the United States: Defining, Understanding, and Combating Abuse. Sage Publications, Inc. CA: Thousand Oaks.
Kaplan, S. J., Pelcovitz, D. & Labruna, V. (1999). Child and adolescent abuse and neglect research: A review of the past 10 years. Part I: Physical and emotional abuse and neglect. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 38, 1214-1222.
Coalition for Responsible Home Education. (n. d.). What are abuse and neglect? Retrieved online.
Written by Angelica S. Reina, Senior Extension Specialist for Child Development and Parenting Education, University of Kentucky; College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. Edited by Lauren State, Oldham County Extension Staff Assistant.