Child abuse takes many forms:
Most child abuse is inflicted 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. He or she 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:
There also are specific signs and symptoms to look out for, depending on the type of abuse.
Physical abuse signs and symptoms
Sexual abuse signs and symptoms
Emotional abuse signs and symptoms
Neglect signs and symptoms
Sometimes a parent's demeanor or behavior also sends red flags about child abuse. Warning signs include a parent who:
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.
Although most child health experts strongly advise against the use of violence in any form, some people still use corporal punishment (spanking etc.) as a way to discipline their children. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell if the line between discipline and abuse has been crossed. Corporal punishment that injures or leaves marks is excessive and considered abuse by child protection agencies in the United States. Any corporal punishment may leave emotional scars.
Certain parental behaviors — even when done in the name of discipline — are clearly child abuse, such as:
When to see a doctor
If you're worried that you might abuse your own child, stop what you're doing and put some distance between you and your child. If there's someone who can watch your child, leave the house and go for a walk. Call your own primary care doctor or your child's pediatrician for advice and a treatment referral. If you don't think you can control your temper, call 911 or take your child to the nearest emergency room for help.
Child abuse occurs across all socioeconomic levels and ethnic groups. Factors that may increase a person's risk of becoming abusive include:
Some children overcome the physical and psychological effects of child abuse, particularly those who have high self-esteem, an optimistic attitude and strong social support. For others, however, child abuse has lifelong consequences. For example, child abuse may lead to:
Tests and diagnosis
Options for the abused child
Children who are placed in foster care because their home situation was deemed too dangerous will also need mental health services, and specific therapies are available for children in foster care.
Options for the abusing parent
Several different types of therapy have been found helpful for parents, including:
Places to turn for help
Coping and support
If a child tells you he or she is being abused, take the situation seriously:
You can take simple steps to protect your child from exploitation and child abuse, as well as prevent child abuse in your neighborhood or community. For example:
If you're concerned that you might abuse your child, seek help immediately, especially if you were abused as a child. Start by talking with your family doctor. He or she may offer a referral to a parent education class, counseling or a support group for parents so that you can learn appropriate ways to deal with your anger. If you're abusing alcohol or drugs, ask your doctor about treatment options. Remember, child abuse is preventable — and often a symptom of a problem that may be treatable. Ask for help today.
If you, the parent, were a victim of any type of child abuse, get counseling to assure you don't continue the abuse cycle or teach those destructive behaviors to your child.
Last Updated: 2010-07-01
© 1998-2013 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). All rights reserved. A single copy of these materials may be reprinted for noncommercial personal use only. "Mayo," "Mayo Clinic," "MayoClinic.com," "Mayo Clinic Health Information," "Reliable information for a healthier life" and the triple-shield Mayo logo are trademarks of Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.
Terms and conditions of use