This is the second post in our series to honor National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

In our first post, we talked about the reality of child abuse in Michigan and what it does to a child’s brain.  Now, let’s better define abuse and neglect so we can recognize it.

Child abuse can be broken down into categories: physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect which includes inadequate supervision and the neglect of physical, emotional, educational or medical needs.

“Most people understand and are concerned with the physical harm that is associated with abuse and neglect,” says Don Guernsey MS LMFT FSAC, Director of Behavioral Health at Eagle Village.  “However, it is the trauma from the experience that is the most difficult injury to heal. The emotional and mental health effects of abuse and neglect are devastating to victims, families and our communities.”

The damage simply doesn’t stop with the victim.

“Untreated victims of abuse and neglect often struggle through life, have medical and mental health problems, and often end up involved in the legal system,” says Guernsey.  “Victims of abuse and neglect are also more likely to grow up and become abusive and neglectful to their children- causing the cycle of abuse and neglect to continue to future generations.”

So what does this cycle look like when it plays out in society around us?  While we might imagine it only taking place in poor and impoverished neighborhoods, abuse actually takes place in every community.  There is no one profile for an abuser and they come from all economic levels, genders, education levels, and cultures.  Check out these signs and symptoms of abuse and neglect in children and parents so you know what to look for.

Signs of abuse or neglect
In children

  • Sudden change in behavior or school performance
  • Not receiving help for physical or medical problems brought to the parents’ attention
  • Always watchful, preparing for something bad to happen
  • Lacks adult supervision
  • Overly compliant, passive, or withdrawn
  • Comes to school or other activities early, stays late, and does not want to go home
  • Reluctant to be around a particular person

In parents

  • Denies the existence of (or blames the child for) the child’s problems in school or at home
  • Asks teachers or caregivers to use harsh physical discipline if the child misbehaves
  • Sees the child as bad, worthless, or burdensome
  • Demands a level of performance the child cannot achieve
  • Shows little concern for the child

In the parent/child relationship

  • Rarely touch or look at each other
  • Consider their relationship entirely negative
  • State they do not like each other

Signs of physical abuse
In children

  • Has unexplained burns, bites, bruises, or black eyes
  • Has fading bruises or marks after an absence from school
  • Seems frightened of parents
  • Shrinks at the approach of adults
  • Abuses animals

In parents

  • Offers conflicting explanation for the child’s injury
  • Describes the child as “evil” or “bad”
  • Uses harsh physical discipline
  • Has their own history of being abused
  • Abuses animals

Signs of neglect
In children

  • Frequently absent from school
  • Begs or steals food or money
  • Lacks medical/dental care or glasses
  • Consistently dirty and has severe body odor
  • Lacks appropriate clothing for the weather

In parents

  • Seems apathetic or depressed
  • Behaves irrationally
  • Abuses alcohol or drugs
  • Appears indifferent to the child

Signs of sexual abuse
In children

  • Suddenly refuses to change for gym or to participate in physical activities
  • Reports nightmares or bedwetting
  • Sudden change in appetite
  • Demonstrates unusual sexual knowledge or behavior for their age
  • Runs away
  • Attaches very quickly to strangers or new adults in their environment

In parents

  • Restricts the child’s contact with other children
  • Acts secretive and isolated
  • Is jealous and controlling with family members

Signs of emotional abuse
In children

  • Shows extremes in behavior (overly compliant, demanding, passive, or aggressive)
  • Parenting other children
  • Frequently rocking or head-banging
  • Delays in physical or emotional development
  • Has attempted suicide
  • Reports lack of attachment to the parent

In parents

  • Constantly blames and belittles the child
  • Rejects the child

To close out the month of April, we will be honoring National Child Abuse Prevention Month with a series on what people like you can do to help.  Look for the next post in this series tomorrow.

*signs compiled by