As parents, one of the biggest fears you may have is finding signs of abuse in your child. You entrust your childcare providers, program leaders, coaches, clergy, and other community leaders with your childrens’ health and wellbeing. You hope your trust is well-placed.
The grand majority of people with access to kids have the training, compassion, and care ethic to ensure your kids remain safe and secure on their watch. However, it’s crucial to stay current on the not-so-obvious signs of abuse or neglect.
The more you know about what to watch for in your kids when you pick them up from school, daycare, and activities, the more confident you’ll feel about leaving them in the care of other people and organizations.
Twin Cities Kids Club equips you with all the information you need to create the safest, most enjoyable experiences for your family. Join our online community to stay current on all the latest around-town happenings, awesome regional discounts, as well as tips and tricks to keep your kids healthy and happy year-round.
Types of abuse: it’s more expansive than you may think
Child mistreatment and endangerment can take multiple forms. It’s essential when you’re educating yourself as a parent to expand your thinking when it comes to signs of abuse. Here are several categories of abuse of which to broaden your awareness:
- Neglect: Withholding or the inability to provide proper shelter, clothing, food, affection, supervision, education, or medical and dental attention.
- Sexual abuse: Any sexual behavior directed toward a child. This includes fondling, intercourse, oral-genital contact, child pornography exposure, sexual exploitation, and more. Violation of this sort occurs whenever a person in power or authority subjects a child to sexual activity or behaviors. Older children can sexually abuse younger children, even if they don’t understand what they are doing is harmful.
- Physical abuse: When a child is physically and purposefully harmed or endangered by another person.
- Emotional abuse: Subjecting a child to continual or habitual degradation, shaming, belittling, isolation, ignoring, and rejection.
- Medical abuse: Fabricating a health condition in a child, and subjecting them to unnecessary or harmful medical treatments.
How can you recognize whether your child (or other children with whom you interact) suffers from one or more types of abuse? Watch the signs.
Hidden signs of abuse from toddler to school age
Most of the child abuse that occurs is not at the hands of a stranger, but with someone the child knows. Family members, friends, other children, and group leaders in childrens’ programming have the most reliable access to children.
There is a difference in bullying, which is typically at the hands of a peer, and abuse, which is at the hands of an adult. It is essential to know the difference.
People who abuse children (especially with sexual abuse) typically groom the child to gradually accept harmful behavior. They gain a child’s confidence and manipulate them into “keeping secrets.”
Abused children may feel massive amounts of shame or guilt, thinking it’s their fault the abuse happened or continues to happen. The abused child may also feel fear about “telling on” an adult and getting that person “in trouble,” even in the face of the sometimes tremendous personal harm they endure.
Some general signs to watch for that may sound the abuse alarm are:
- Sudden reluctance to go to an activity she previously enjoyed
- Increased school absences
- Talking about or engaging in self-harm or “wanting to die”
- Behavior changes like aggression, defiance, or withdrawal and isolation
- Significant changes in self-confidence
- Running away from home
- A visible or suspected lack of supervision (which could show up as a very young child feeling proud of “taking care of their siblings,” or doing other adult household activities on their own, for example.)
Other hidden abuse signs
Each type of abuse can have a unique set of indicators. Stay watchful for the following:
Sexual abuse signs:
- Having age-inappropriate knowledge of sexual activity
- Sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy (girls can begin their periods around age 12, but can start a few years earlier as well)
- Telling someone about sexual abuse they’ve experienced
- Behaving or acting out sexually with other kids
- Regression in potty training or onset of bedwetting
Physical abuse signs:
- Unexplained injuries like broken bones or burns
- Injuries that don’t match the story given to explain them
- Bruises that appear more often than typical children
Emotional abuse signs:
- Clingy, needy behavior, desperate for affection
- Regression of developmental skills previously mastered (language, toileting, motor skills)
- Avoidance of the situations where the abuse occurs, like school buses, school, or home
- Delayed emotional development
- Depression and isolation
Signs of neglect:
- Extreme ends of the height and weight growth curve, either dramatically under or overweight for their age
- Hiding food or taking money or food when not appropriate
- Continual or habitual lack of cleanliness
What to do if you’re concerned
If you notice any of the warning signs in your children, take them seriously. It’s okay to question the conditions, supervision, and staff training where you leave your children for care or activities.
Document as much as you can the specific warning signs you notice and when they began. Narrowing your search and engaging in gentle, non-blaming dialog with your children (if they’re old enough to communicate with you) can help you pinpoint the cause of potential harm.
Further, when choosing activities, leaders, and daycare centers for your children, ask to view hiring practices, background check policies, and abuse prevention training. Every organization that watches over children should have these policies and training protocols clearly visible for parents.
Do not allow your children to be alone with coaches, clergy, Sunday school teachers and other authority figures. Scope out the physical locations where you drop off your child. Look for hidden corners, blind spots for teachers, safety equipment (like cupboard locks and door knob covers) and pay attention to staff-child ratios.
Make a habit of showing up unexpectedly to greet your child at their care spaces and activities. You’ll see how the organization looks and operates when parents generally aren’t around. Volunteer when you can in your child’s classroom or school so you can gain confidence and in-the-moment knowledge of student-staff interaction.
Be informed, not hyper-vigilant
While being in the know is helpful, over-protecting your child from every harmful possibility creates anxiety for you and discourages your child from exploring his world. When you learn the signs of abuse and some strategic, common-sense ways to keep your kids safe, you can breathe a little easier.
We shouldn’t protect our kids from every owie, bellyflop, hurt feeling, or conflict. However, with a little knowledge and diligence, you can dramatically increase your child’s chances of avoiding abuse now and always.
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