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Warning Signs of the 4 Most Common Types of Child Abuse

Updated: Apr 2, 2023

Over 600,000 children are abused each year in the U.S. alone. This statistic is both shocking and sad. Even as a child abuse survivor myself, I didn’t realize how many people were suffering alongside me. With all of this in mind, it’s time for each of us to take a stand and that starts with learning how to spot child abuse.

What is child abuse?

Each state throughout the United States has a different definition of child abuse. However, there are typically four main types of child abuse: physical, neglect, sexual, and emotional. You may wish to familiarize yourself with how to spot child abuse in each of these categories.

Physical Abuse

When you’re looking at how to spot child abuse of this nature, you should be looking for unexplainable injuries that couldn’t have occurred because of an accident. An additional note of importance here is that the Child Welfare Information Gateway says that physical discipline (e.g., spanking, paddling) isn’t abuse if it is reasonable and causes no bodily injury to the child. What isn’t reasonable is when a parent lays you across the bed and hits you with a belt. Even though my mother was sure not to leave any visible marks, she’d push it to the point where she barely got away with it. This is abuse.


This type of child abuse occurs when the child’s basic needs (e.g., food, shelter, medical care, education) aren’t met.

Sexual Abuse

Most of us realize that it’s wrong to exploit children. This means that you can’t allow them to engage in or be exposed to any inappropriate sexual situations.

Emotional Abuse

This type of child abuse can be one of the most difficult forms to identify. I honestly believe that most people don’t know how to spot child abuse of this type which is why my parents were able to get away with it. The only real way to determine that emotional abuse is happening is when it occurs alongside other types of child abuse. With emotional abuse, a child’s emotional growth is stunted by insults, threats, and rejection.

What are the signs of child abuse?

Once you think you know how to spot child abuse there are typically some very specific red flags you can be mindful of. These include:

· Signs of physical abuse include unexplained injuries, fear of other parents, or not wanting to go home.

· Signs of neglect include stealing or begging for more feat, wearing inappropriate clothing for the weather, or always being dirty.

· Signs of sexual abuse include difficulty walking or sitting, sudden appetite changes, or unusual/sophisticated sexual knowledge.

· Signs of emotional abuse include extreme emotional behaviors, acting too mature/childish (e.g., I always tried to be perfect and so I always looked quite mature for my age), no signs of attachment to their parents (Be careful here because my parents would force me to show signs of affection to them while in public.).

It’s essential to note that these signs aren’t always connected to the types of child abuse you may think are occurring. Nevertheless, when you see them, you should consider whether you feel that the child is being mistreated.

What can be done?

One of the best things that you can do is help stop child abuse before it even begins by helping to reduce stress on families. Offer to help parents who need it. If you suspect that different types of child abuse are already occurring, you can call the child abuse hotline at Child Help USA 24/7 at 1-800-4-A-CHILD. You can also get more information regarding how to spot child abuse and domestic violence at Healing Family Trauma Pittsburgh.

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