Identifying Abuse

Children react differently to abuse; however, certain behavioral and physical signs can indicate abuse. It’s essential that every person know these indicators.

Children are often afraid or ashamed to tell anyone or do not understand what is happening is wrong. Remember that warning signs should lead you to look further and take action but don’t necessarily mean a child is being abused.

General Signs

  • Changes in behavior, appearing anxious, passive, depressed, withdrawn, or excessively angry
  • Fear of being with a particular person
  • Changes in school performance or attendance
  • Self-harming behaviors, such as using drugs or alcohol, promiscuity, carrying a weapon, cutting, or trying to run away
  • Changes in eating and sleeping that may show up in physical appearance
  • Returning to earlier behaviors, such as bed-wetting, thumb-sucking, fear of strangers, and baby talk
  • Unexplained injuries or physical issues, headaches, stomach pain, and trouble walking or sitting
  • Apparent lack of adult supervision or care


Signs Related to Particular Types of Abuse


  • Failure to thrive with poor growth or weight gain
  • Poor hygiene, appearing uncared for or unkempt
  • Lack of clothing or other basic needs
  • Obsession with food, such as eating a lot in one sitting or hoarding
  • Poor school attendance
  • Lack of attention for medical or dental care
  • Emotional behavior inappropriate to the situation
  • Indifference

Physical Abuse

  • Unexplained injuries, including broken bones, bruises in the shape of objects or on the face, or burns
  • Injuries to an immobile child
  • Untreated medical or dental problems

Sexual Abuse

  • Disclosures of such abuse
  • Sexual behavior or knowledge that is inappropriate for the child’s age, such as explicit language, or acting out sexual scenarios with dolls, toys, or friends
  • Aggressive sexual behavior toward other children
  • Physical signs, including headaches, stomach pain, trouble walking or sitting, urination pain, or blood in underwear
  • Pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection

Emotional Abuse

  • Withdrawal or loss of self-confidence/self-esteem
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Inappropriate emotional response or delayed development
  • Overly interested in affection
  • Loss of interest in school or activities
  • Avoidance of certain situations, including attendance and participation in school
  • Unexplained physical issues, such as headaches and stomach aches


Signs an Adult May be Abusive

  • Little concern for the child
  • Talks about extensive disciplining of the child and asks others to use harsh discipline
  • Unrealistic expectations of the child
  • Berates or humiliates the child constantly
  • Sees the child as bad, worthless, or out of control
  • Denies that problems exist at home or blames the child
  • Unable / unwilling to meet the child’s basic needs and provide a safe environment
  • Expects the child to provide the caregiver with attention and care and may be jealous of others