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How to Spot Abuse and What to Do About it

According to the National Children’s Alliance, nearly 700,000 children are abused in the US each year, and this abuse is underreported. Child abuse is defined as a parent or caregiver, through action or failing to act, causing emotional harm, injury, or death to anyone under the age of 18. There are many types of child maltreatment, including physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation, and neglect. Unfortunately, there are many people who prey on children and may even seem like decent individuals. It’s important to know the signs so that you can intervene if there is any suspicious behavior involving your children or in any of your children’s friends. 

Child Abuse Signs

Many children feel ashamed about any kind of abuse they may be facing, so it might be hard for some to come forward with that information right away. Some general things to look out for in children include: becoming withdrawn, changes in personality or behavior, becoming aggressive, a poor relationship with a parent, trying to run away, ill-explained marks or bruises, being particular about dressing modestly, and knowing about adult issues that are inappropriate for their age. While these issues may not be a result of abuse, it will help give you the opportunity to assess the situation at hand. 

There are also signs you can look for in adults who may be abusers, such as showing little concern for a child, limiting a child’s interactions with others, constantly belittling or blaming the child for problems, and being unable to recognize physical or emotional distress in a child. It is important that you report any suspicion of child abuse even if you do not have hard evidence that abuse is taking place. Children carry the effects of child abuse with them throughout their entire adult lives in many cases, and this can cause premature death, physical or learning disabilities, substance abuse, and many other health issues. Reporting can soften the recovery process dramatically if abuse is caught early on. 

Talking to Your Child About Abuse

If the opportunity presents itself, you can try to have a calm conversation with the child if you suspect something inappropriate may be occuring. Simply letting a child know that they seem to be acting differently may allow them to open up with anything that is going on that is out of the ordinary. If a child does decide to tell you anything, make sure you listen. Don’t judge them and don’t pry for additional information, but let them know that you believe them and want to help. And never promise that you won’t tell anyone, as you should definitely report an incident if a child comes to you with information that you find credible. You also should not talk to the accused abuser—an incident with reasonable truth should be taken to the police or to an organization that helps with child protection directly. 

Whether you are a nanny, a teacher, a parent, or a member of the community, it is imperative that you stay vigilant when it comes to the children around you. They are vulnerable and need guidance and assistance to help them navigate through childhood. Always remember to ask questions, listen, and get help immediately if you suspect there is something going on. Call the Childhelp Hotline at 800-4-A-CHILD (800-422-4453) for 24/7 toll free assistance. 

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