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Child Abuse Signs and Symptoms

Although these signs do not necessarily indicate that a child has been abused, they may help adults recognize that something is wrong. The possibility of abuse should be investigated if a child shows a number of these symptoms, or any of them to a marked degree:

  • Sexual Abuse
    • Being overly affectionate or knowledgeable in a sexual way inappropriate to the child’s age
    • Medical problems such as chronic itching, pain in the genitals, venereal diseases
    • Other extreme reactions, such as depression, self-mutilation, suicide attempts, running away, overdoses, anorexia
    • Personality changes such as becoming insecure or clinging
    • Regressing to younger behavior patterns such as thumb sucking or bringing out discarded cuddly toys
    • Sudden loss of appetite or compulsive eating
    • Being isolated or withdrawn
    • Inability to concentrate
    • Lack of trust or fear someone they know well, such as not wanting to be alone with a babysitter
    • Starting to wet again, day or night/nightmares
    • Become worried about clothing being removed
    • Suddenly drawing sexually explicit pictures
    • Trying to be “ultra-good” or perfect; overreacting to criticism
  • Physical Abuse
    • Unexplained recurrent injuries or burns
    • Improbable excuses or refusal to explain injuries
    • Wearing clothes to cover injuries, even in hot weather
    • Refusal to undress for gym
    • Bald patches
    • Chronic running away
    • Fear of medical help or examination
    • Self-destructive tendencies
    • Aggression towards others
    • Fear of physical contact—shrinking back if touched
    • Admitting that they are punished, but the punishment is excessive (such as a child being beaten every night to “make him/her study”)
    • Fear of suspected abuser being contacted
  • Emotional Abuse
    • Physical, mental, and emotional development lags
    • Sudden speech disorders
    • Continual self-depreciation (“I’m stupid, ugly, worthless, etc.”)
    • Overreaction to mistakes
    • Extreme fear of any new situation
    • Inappropriate response to pain (“I deserve this”)
    • Neurotic behavior (rocking, hair twisting, self-mutilation)
    • Extremes of passivity or aggression
  • Neglect
    • Constant hunger
    • Poor personal hygiene
    • No social relationships
    • Constant tiredness
    • Poor state of clothing
    • Compulsive scavenging
    • Emaciation
    • Untreated medical problems
    • Destructive tendencies

A child may be subjected to a combination of different kinds of abuse. It is also possible that a child may show no outward signs and hide what is happening from everyone.