Additional Information

Signs and Symptoms of Child Abuse


Children who are victims of abuse often experience symptoms of stress in reaction to the abuse, in addition to symptoms that are specific to the kind of abuse they have suffered. The signs and symptoms of abuse often vary according to the age and developmental stage of the child. It is also important to understand that victims of child abuse suffer abuse in more than one way, so the child may demonstrate symptoms consistent with more than one kind of maltreatment. 

Examples of less specific signs and symptoms of child abuse include:

  • a tendency to either avoid, overly please, or ingratiate themselves to the abuser;
  • poor school performance;
  • irritability/quickness to anger;
  • crying more often and/or easily;
  • anxiety or panic;
  • frequent complaints of physical symptoms, like headaches and stomachaches;
  • young kids may act younger than their age or than they had previously (regress);
  • spending more time alone, away from friends and family;
  • becoming more "clingy" and more dependent on certain relationships;
  • expressing thoughts about hurting him or herself or others;
  • more risk-taking behaviors and/or showing less concern for their own safety.
  • Has injuries that appear to have a pattern such as marks from a hand or belt
  • Is always watchful and “on alert,” as if waiting for something bad to happen
  • Has frequent injuries or unexplained bruises, welts, or cuts
  • Shies away from touch, flinches at sudden movements, or seems afraid to go home

Examples of risk-taking behaviors in children include unsafe play, like climbing excessively high or running in the street. More potentially specific signs and symptoms of abuse may include the following:

  • Neglect: The child may lose weight or fail to gain weight appropriately for their age. Their energy level and ability to learn will likely decrease. They may become withdrawn and show physical signs of malnutrition, like dry skin or hair or develop thinning hair.
  • Physical abuse: A child who is the victim of physical abuse may have repeated physical injuries and emergency room or other doctor's visits with or without adequate explanation. They may claim to be accident prone or provide other stories about how they sustained injuries and may tend to wear excessive clothing to cover injuries or otherwise engage in secrecy in an attempt to protect the abuser from intervention by child welfare authorities and law enforcement.
  • Emotional abuse: Emotionally abused children may make negative statements about themselves or others that mimic the abuser, like calling his or herself names or otherwise exhibiting pessimism or low self-esteem.
  • Sexual abuse: A sexually abused child may exhibit sexual knowledge or behaviors that are much older than is appropriate for their age. They may also exhibit inappropriately sexual behavior, resulting in their engaging in masturbating excessively or in front of others, as well as participating in inappropriate sexual play with children. They may also respond opposite to that by avoiding bathing, going to the restroom, examination by a professional, or otherwise having to take off their clothes. Medically, sexually abused children may develop genital injuries or sexually transmitted disease

Statistical Facts

Acts that constitute child abuse are more common in the United States than most people realize: every year, there are more than 3 million reports of child abuse, involving almost 6 million children. Worse still, every day, four or five children are killed by child abuse or neglect.

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