Physical Child Abuse

By Vanessa Rasmussen, © 2004, All rights reserved.

Physical abuse is a form of child maltreatment (a broad category of behavior that also includes sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and neglect). As a general rule, physical abuse refers to the infliction of physical harm on a child by a parent or caregiver. Any physical punishment that causes injury to a child or any non-accidental use of violence or poison that causes injury or death to a child can be regarded as physical abuse. Physical abuse often occurs simultaneously with other forms of child maltreatment.

Examples of abusive treatment of children include: hitting with an object, kicking, burning, scalding, punching, and threatening or attacking with weapons.

Following are some of the indicators of physical abuse:

  • Unexplained or repeated injuries such as welts, bruises, fractures or burns
  • Injury in the shape of an object, such as cigarette burns, belt marks, etc.
  • Disagreement between the child's and the parent's or caretaker’s explanation of the injury
  • A child displaying fear and a lack of trust towards parents and adults for no apparent reason
  • A child may be afraid to go home, daycare or school
  • A child wears clothing to purposely conceal injury, i.e. long sleeves and/or refuses to undress for gym or for required physical exams at school
  • Abused children may be shy, withdrawn, and uncommunicative or hyperactive, aggressive, and disruptive

Physical abuse can cause a child a great deal of physical as well as emotional pain and may lead to physical handicaps, brain damage, slow development and even death.

If you suspect that a child is been physically abused you can take the following steps:

  • Take the child to a quiet area so that he feels safe to talk about it
  • Gently persue the child to talk to you about what he/she is feeling. Ask the child in gentle manner what or who has caused bodily harm to the child.
  • Assure the child that it is not the child's fault that he/she is been tortured like this. Most physical abusers tend to verbally abuse the child as well and constantly tell the child that the reason they are being hit is because they are at fault.
  • Listen to the child patiently and do not be judgmental.
  • If you suspect a case of child abuse, you may need to seek support from your local health department, child support services department, or other sources within your area.
  • Work with the authority in any way to help them remove the child from the place of abuse.
  • If necessary, provide the child with psychotherapy and counseling to overcome the pain caused by physical abuse.
  • Victims of abuse, as well as the abusers, are equally in need of professional treatment and counseling.

If you are running a daycare, dealing with child abuse is emotionally difficult. A child care provider should get training in recognizing and reporting child abuse before they are confronted with a suspected case.

Copyright 2001, 2004. All rights reserved. Any reproduction of this article in whole or in part without written or verbal permission is strictly prohibited. For information about reprinting this article, contact the copyright owner: Vanessa Rasmussen, Ph.D, Starting a Day Care Center,