Physical abuse is the form of child abuse most frequently reported by the media and most familiar to the public. It is, also, the form most frequently fatal.
Children can and do sustain bumps and bruises, in the course of ordinary play. Physical abuse, however, is deliberate harm by a parent or caregiver.
An abuser may characterize physical abuse as punishment for a perceived infraction. But such punishment is out of all proportion to the infraction, and severe beyond a child’s capacity to understand or endure it.
The warning signs of physical abuse include the following :
- A child who has unexplained burns, bruises, bite marks, or broken bones.
- A child who has fading bruises after an absence from school, particularly patterned injuries (in the shape of a belt buckle or stove burner, for example) or injuries in normally protected areas of the body like the genitals, inner arms, back, or buttocks.
- A child who shrinks from adults, as if fearful of being struck.
- A child who seems reluctant to go home after school, and/or frightened of his/her parents.
- A child with mental health issues such as PTSD, anxiety, and/or depression.
- A child who says his/her injury was caused by a parent or caregiver.
Children subjected to physical abuse like “Shaken Baby” Syndrome during the early years of life can experience brain damage, loss of hearing, injury to the spinal cord, and death.
The parent responsible for inflicting injury on a child – or attempting to “cover” for an offending partner – may offer inconsistent (or unconvincing) explanations for that child’s injuries.
Such a parent may describe his/her child as “evil” or in other highly negative terms. The parent may use (or recommend that a teacher use) harsh physical discipline on his/her child.
Other potential danger signals include a prior history of abuse by the parent with the same or another child, and/or physical abuse of that parent as a child.
 Prevent Child Abuse America, “Recognizing Child Abuse: What Parents Should Know”, https://preventchildabuse.org/resource/recognizing-child-abuse-what-parents-should-know/.
 First Cry – Parenting, “Neglect – Causes, Effects, and Prevention” by Romita P, 2/12/18, https://parenting.firstcry.com/articles/child-neglect-causes-effects-and-prevention/.
This series will conclude next week with Part 4 – Sexual Abuse
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