Recognizing The Different Types Of Child Abuse

Recognizing The Different Types Of Child Abuse

Abusive behavior comes in many forms, but the common denominator is the emotional effect on the child. Whether the abuse is a slap, a harsh comment, stony silence, or not knowing if there will be dinner on the table, the result is a child that feels unsafe, uncared for, and alone.


Contrary to some people’s beliefs, words can hurt, and emotional abuse can severely damage a child’s mental health or social development.

Examples of emotional abuse include:

  • Constant belittling, shaming, and humiliating.
  • Calling names and making negative comparisons to others.
  • Telling a child they’re “no good,” “worthless,” “bad,” or “a mistake.”
  • Frequent yelling, threatening, or bullying.
  • Ignoring or rejecting a child as punishment, giving them silent treatment.
  • Limiting positive physical contact with a child—no hugs, kisses, or other signs of affection.
  • Exposing a child to violence against others, whether it is against the other parent, a sibling, or even a pet.


This involves physical harm or injury to the child. It may be the result of a deliberate attempt to hurt the child or excessive physical punishment. Many physically abusive parents insist that their actions are simply forms of discipline—ways to make children learn to behave. But there is a big difference between using physical punishment to discipline and physical abuse.


With physical abuse, the following elements are present:

  • The child never knows what is going to set the parent off. There are no clear boundaries or rules. The child is constantly walking on eggshells, never sure what behavior will trigger a physical assault.
  • Lashing out in anger. Abusive parents act out of anger and the desire to assert control, not the motivation to lovingly teach the child. The angrier the parent, the more intense the abuse.
  • Using fear to control behavior. Abusive parents may believe that their children need to fear them to behave, so they use physical abuse to “keep their child in line.” However, what children are learning is how to avoid being hit, not how to behave or grow as individuals.


Child sexual abuse is an especially complicated form of abuse because of its layers of guilt and shame. It’s important to recognize that sexual abuse doesn’t always involve body contact. Exposing a child to sexual situations or material is sexually abusive, whether or not touching is involved.


Sexually abused children are often tormented by shame and guilt. They may feel that they are responsible for the abuse or somehow brought it upon themselves. This can lead to self-loathing and sexual and relationship problems as they grow older.

The shame of sexual abuse makes it very difficult for children to come forward. They may worry that others won’t believe them, will be angry with them, or that it will split their family apart. Because of these difficulties, false accusations of sexual abuse are not common, so if a child confides in you, take them seriously.


The warning signs that a child is being abused or neglected can vary according to the type of abuse inflicted.



The child may:

  • Be excessively withdrawn, fearful, or anxious about doing something wrong.
  • Show extremes in behavior (extremely compliant, demanding, passive, aggressive).
  • Not seem to be attached to the parent or caregiver.
  • Act either inappropriately adult (taking care of other children) or inappropriately infantile (thumb-sucking, throwing tantrums).


The child may:

  • Have frequent injuries or unexplained bruises, welts, or cuts. Their injuries may appear to have a pattern such as marks from a hand or belt.
  • Be always watchful and “on alert,” as if waiting for something bad to happen.
  • Shy away from touch, flinch at sudden movements, or seem afraid to go home.
  • Wear inappropriate clothing to cover up injuries, such as long-sleeved shirts on hot days.


The child may:

  • Have trouble walking or sitting.
  • Display knowledge of sexual acts inappropriate for their age, or even exhibit seductive behavior.
  • Make strong efforts to avoid a specific person, without an obvious reason.
  • Not want to change clothes in front of others or participate in physical activities.
  • Have an STD or pregnancy, especially if they’re under the age of 14.
  • Try to run away from home.BE A PART OF OUR MISSION

If you suspect that a child is undergoing abuse, it’s critical to report it—and to continue reporting each separate incidence if it continues to reoccur. Each report you make is a snapshot of what’s going on in the family. The more information you can provide, the better the chance of the child getting the help they deserve.