Abuse is the intentional maltreatment of a child and can be physical, sexual or emotional in nature. Alternatively, neglect is the failure to give children the necessary care they need. The emotional scars of both types of maltreatment are often deep and no child deserves to be maltreated. Abuse from an adult can either be intentional or the effects of stressful situations. Even if maltreatment is the result of overflowing emotions, the maltreatment of a child can have serious repercussions. 

Often, abusive adults were themselves victims of child abuse. They have never experienced, nor have they learned, acceptable ways of disciplining their children. They instead teach their children the same unacceptable ways of dealing with anger through violence. There are four distinguishable types of abuse:

  1. Physical Abuse - Injuring a child by hitting, kicking, shaking, or burning, etc. him/her; also includes throwing objects at the child.
  2. Emotional Maltreatment - Crushing a child's spirit with degrading derogatory verbal attacks, threats, or humiliation.
  3. Sexual Abuse - Sexual contact with a child (incest, inappropriate touching, rape); pornographic use of a child.
  4. Neglect - Failure to provide for a child s physical or emotional needs (food, clothing, shelter, medical care, physical or emotional attention); failure to provide guidance or supervision, abandonment.

All children deserve safe, stable, and nurturing environments to thrive. But Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) can disrupt healthy brain development, leading to potential lifelong negative health outcomes.

The physical effects of child abuse and neglect are painful and may require medical attention. Studies have shown that the emotional effects of child abuse and neglect are profound: The abused child can develop low self-esteem, insecurities and emotional problems or has trouble building relationships.

Recognizing Child Abuse

The first step in helping abused children is learning to recognize the symptoms of child abuse. Although child abuse is divided into four types listed above, the types are more typically found in combination than alone. A physically abused child for example is often emotionally maltreated as well, and a sexually abused child may be also neglected. Any child at any age may experience any of the types of child abuse. Children over age five are more likely to be physically abused and to suffer moderate injury than are children under age five.

Parent and Child

  • The parent and child rarely touch or look at each other
  • Consider their relationship entirely negative
  • State that they do not like each other

The Child

  • The child shows sudden changes in behavior or school performance
  • Has not received help for physical or medical problems brought to the parents' attention
  • Has learning problems that cannot be attributed to specific physical or psychological causes
  • Is always watchful, as though preparing for something bad to happen
  • Lacks adult supervision
  • Is overly compliant, an overachiever, or too responsible, or
  • Comes to school early, stays late, and does not want to go home

The Parent

  • The parent shows little concern for the child, rarely responding to the school's requests for information, for conferences, or for home visits
  • Denies the existence of -- or blames the child for -- the child's problems in school or at home
  • Asks the classroom teacher to use harsh physical discipline if the child misbehaves
  • Sees the child entirely bad, worthless, or burdensome
  • Demands perfection or a level of physical or academic performance the child cannot achieve, or
  • Looks primarily to the child for care, attention, and satisfaction of emotional needs.

None of these signs proves that child abuse is present in a family. Any of them may be found in any parent or child at one time or another. But when these signs appear repeatedly or in combination, they should cause the educator to take closer look at the situation and to consider the possibility of child abuse. That second look may reveal further signs of abuse or signs of a particular kind of child abuse.

To report child abuse or neglect contact your local DSS agency or, if this is an emergency, call 911. 

Ten Ways to Help Prevent Child Abuse

  1. Be a nurturing parent. Children need to know that they are special, loved and capable of following their dreams.
  2. Help a friend, neighbor or relative. Being a parent isn't easy. Offer a helping hand: take care of the children so the parents can rest or spend time together.
  3. Help yourself. When the big and little problems of your everyday life pile up to the point you feel overwhelmed and out of control.
  4. Learn what to do if your baby won't stop crying. Never shake a baby -- shaking a child may result in severe injury or death.
  5. Get involved. Children need your help to live a safe and healthy life. Ask your community leaders, clergy, library and schools to develop services to meet the needs of healthy children and families.
  6. Help develop parenting resources at your local library. 
  7. Promote programs in school. Teaching children, parents and teachers prevention strategies can help keep children safe.
  8. Monitor your child's television and video viewing. Watching violent films and TV programs can harm young children.
  9. Volunteer with programs providing concrete supports to families. For more information about volunteer opportunities, visit NC DHHS.
  10. North Carolina law requires all adults to report suspected child maltreatment. If this is an emergency, call 911. If you have reason to believe a child has been or may be harmed, call your local DSS agency. Learn more about how to recognize and report suspected child maltreatment.

Alternatives to Lashing Out at Your Child

Tips to Prevent Child Abuse If You are a Parent

  • Take a deep breath ... and another. Remember, you are the adult.
  • Close your eyes and imagine you're hearing what you child is about to hear.
  • Put your child in a time-out chair (remember this rule: One time-out minute for each year of age).
  • Phone a friend.
  • If someone can watch the children, go outside and take a walk.
  • Decompress by taking a hot bath, splashing cold water on your face, hugging a pillow or listening to music.
  • Pick up a pencil and write down as many helpful words as you can think of. Save the list.