How to Identify Child Abuse Ages 0-5

| Age 0-5, Parent Resources

Sometimes it is difficult to understand exactly what child abuse and neglect are. Child abuse can be a one-time occurrence but more often it is a pattern of behavior involving regular physical attacks or acts of deprivation or molestation. Frequently, the longer child abuse goes on, the more serious the consequences.

how to identify Physical and Sexual Abuse in babies and young children
Abuse Type: Child Abuse Includes: Common Signs:
Physical Abuse: This occurs when someone such as a child parents or day care provider hits or otherwise hurts a child.
  • Come home with unexplained bruises, abrasions, burns, broken bones, black eyes, cuts, bite marks, or other injuries. Repeated injuries of any type can be a warning sign.
  • Changes in their normal behavior, like becoming very quiet and sad, or very angry, or may seem afraid of their parents or other adults.
  • Cry and put up a fight when it’s time to go to daycare, or appear frightened around the caregiver or other adults.
Sexual Abuse: This happens when someone performs a sexual act on the child or forces a child to perform one on them. This includes touching a child in private areas such as the vagina, breast or penis.
  • Have pain, itching, bleeding, or bruises in or around the genital area.
  • Have difficulty walking or sitting, possibly because of genital or anal pain.
  • Suffer from urinary tract infections
  • Be reluctant to take off his coat or sweater, even on a hot day, or insist on wearing multiple undergarments.
  • Demonstrate sexual knowledge, curiosity, or behavior beyond his age (obsessive curiosity about sexual matters, for example, or seductive behavior toward peers or adults).
  • Since sexually abused children show many of the same signs as physically abused children. There is often little physical evidence of sexual abuse. They may go back to younger behaviors like soiling their pants or wetting the bed, have eating problems, or have problems at school.
Emotional Abuse: This occurs when a parent treats a child in ways that make the child feel unwanted, or like a bad person so much that the child’s normal development, learning or behavior suffers. This may include harshly criticizing or frequently blaming the child or making the child feel unwanted.
  • Display behavioral problems or changes such as shunning a parent’s affections or, alternately, becoming excessively clingy or acting angry or depressed. Abused children often show extremes in behavior:
  • A normally outgoing and assertive child may become unusually compliant and passive, while a generally mild child may act in a demanding and aggressive manner.
  • Become less talkative or stop communicating almost completely, or display signs of a speech disorder such as stuttering.
  • Act inappropriately adult or infantile. For example, a toddler may either become overly protective and “parental” toward other children, or revert to rocking and head banging.
  • Be delayed physically or emotionally, walking or talking later than expected or continuing to have regular temper tantrums. But since every child develops at a different rate, it can be difficult to determine whether a developmental delay stems from abuse.
  • Complain of headaches or stomachaches that have no medical cause.
  • They may say things like, Mommy always says I am bad, and truly believe it.
Shaken Baby Syndrome: This type of abuse occurs when someone forcefully shakes a baby or is much too rough when handling a baby. This is the most common way that a young child becomes seriously brain injured or dies as a result of abuse.


What can cause parents to hurt their children?

  • Too much stress at home and/or school.
  • Uncontrolled anger or feelings of frustration.
  • Depression; feeling all alone.
  • Not enough money for living expenses.
  • Violence in the home or in relationships.
  • Drug or alcohol abuse: your own or by those close to you.
  • Feeling too sick or too tired to cope with a child’s needs.

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