Child abuse is a dreadful experience for a child and his/her parents - especially the child undergoing it. Young children will be reluctant to report abuse because they may feel ashamed, confused or guilty. Or they might have been threatened by the abuser not to tell. It is always important as a parent, to know the signs and symptoms of abuse. The signs and symptoms vary with the type of abuse. By understanding and learning those common signs, you can make a big difference in your child’s life. Here are the four types of child maltreatment as defined by WHO.
How to tell if my child is physically abused?
Since the little explorers have trips and falls most of the time, bumps and bruises don’t necessarily mean he/she is being abused. There isn’t one single symptom to look for that will indicate a child is being physically abused. But if the injuries happen often and if there is a specific pattern, talk to your child. If the child cannot give a proper explanation or if you feel the explanation doesn’t match the injury, pay attention and do an investigation.
Signs and indicators to watch for
- Some of the physical symptoms include bruises (on the neck, abdomen, back and buttocks), swollen eyes, defensive wound on arms or thighs, burns from hot liquids or hot objects, finger marks on cheeks as a result of slapping. Always notice the shape of the bruise as it may indicate the object used to abuse them (like stick, belt etc)
- A child who is abused physically can show some of the following behavioral changes like
- The child might cry and appear scared when the caregiver or other adults are around. He might feel hesitant and put up a fight when it is time to go the daycare or when a parent tries to leave the child with the caretaker (this could be a normal reaction to separation. Always go with your ‘mother instinct’)
- Watch out for other unusual behavior like eating and sleeping disorder, becomes aggressive and clingy, looks depressed or wets the bed.
- If your child is still a baby, it is very important to know about Shaken Baby Syndrome(SBS). It happens to babies who are younger than a year old and when they are shaken or thrown in anger. In extreme cases it might include hitting a child’s head against wall or other objects. It might result in internal injuries, fractures and even death. In many cases even severe injuries of SBS might not be visible in babies. A baby with SBS may appear rigid or irritable. It may also result in decreased appetite , vomiting or seizures. Click here to know more about shaken baby syndrome.
How to tell if my child is emotionally abused?
There aren’t many obvious physical symptoms of emotional abuse that you can look for. But, you can identify changes in a child’s emotions or actions. Since changes are a normal part of a child’s growth and development, it might be difficult to spot signs of emotional abuse.
Some subtle indicators to watch for
- Some of the physical indicators include complaints of headaches, nausea or abdominal pain, bed wetting without medical cause.
- Some of the behavioral indicators include - severe symptoms of anxiety and depression, unusual fears, lack of empathy, detached, feeling of shame or guilt, low self- esteem.
- Observable behaviors in an emotionally abused child are aggression, overly shy or compliant, unwanted attention seeking, sleep and speech disorders, sucking on clothes, biting others or self and self harming behaviors.
- Even though emotional abuse is considered less serious than other forms of abuse, it might have a serious effect on a child’s social and emotional development.
How to tell if my child is sexually abused?
Child sexual abuse is a crime that most of the time goes undetected. It is extremely important for you to understand the obvious and less visible signs of sexual abuse. This awareness helps to prevent assault against young children and also the child can get prompt treatment if he/she are abused. Here are some of the most dangerous myths about child sexual abuse. The minimal awareness and some of the dangerous myths assists the sexual assault against children.
Signs and indicators to watch for
1. Some of the physical indicators are:
1. Itching, pain, bleeding and bruises in and around the genital areas.
2. Difficulty in walking and sitting because of pain in genital or anal area.
3. Unusual odour from genital area
3. Blood stains on sheets or undergarments, torn undergarments
4. Symptoms of sexually transmitted infections.
5. Foreign objects in genital or anal openings.
2. The following are the behaviors you may see in a child who is sexually abused.
1. Has nightmares and sleep disorder without medical explanation.
2. Develops unusual fear of certain people or places.
3. Emotional difficulties including anger, anxiety, sadness or low self- esteem
4. Demonstrating obsessive curiosity about sexual knowledge.
5. Change in appetite or eating disorders.
3. All the indicators mentioned above are general warning signs of sexual abuse in children. Not any one sign but appearance of several of the above mentioned warning signs indicate that a child is sexually abused. Since children take time to process and understand, they do not disclose what had happened to them. Parents have to be attentive and identify the warning signs.
As always intuition plays a big role in keeping your children safe. When you feel something is wrong, you should always look for behavioral changes that is different from your child’s normal temperament. If you suspect abuse, it is always better to have professional help from a doctor and counselor.