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How to Spot Signs of Child Abuse and What to Do

***Warning – This post contains harsh language and my personal opinions. This might be the wake-up call you or a loved one needs. I’m not sugar coating anything, because if you are an adult that cannot critically examine their own behavior, there is no way you should be caring for children and telling them how they should behave.

Table of Contents

Let me start off by saying that it should never hurt to be a child, ever! It literally hurts my soul when I read stories about missing children, murdered children and children being neglected despite report after report being filed and no action ever being taken. As we all know, or should know, children are some of the most vulnerable members of our society. Why is it that kids need to essentially prove themselves to receive the same rights awarded to adults freely? Would you allow a stranger to physically harm your child, if not, why is it ok for you to? If you are a grown-ass adult physically disciplining a child that is smaller than you, YOU have the problem. You are responsible for raising a human being, not owning and dominating over one. The cycle of abuse can be stopped, and we need to talk about it today.

Some adversity is necessary for children to learn perseverance, coping skills, how to overcome obstacles, deal with conflicts and strengthen their character, but not at the hands of their caregivers. Caregivers should be a resource or be able to guide children through life’s ups and downs, not cause the downs. This does not mean one should enable bad behavior or allow children to act disrespectfully or recklessly. It’s a fine art to cultivate. Just remember you don’t have to be perfect or not be able lose your temper from time to time.

It is time that people are appalled and outraged that this kind of behavior is still considered acceptable for some children, it’s not. It’s not a joke, it’s not “what was good for me, is good for them” thinking, and it’s definitely not what makes children more “resilient,” healthy human beings. It breeds toxic culture. If we want real change in our country, we need to start working on these types of issues NOW!

I understand that each parent feels they are entitled to raise their children the way they see fit, but clearly some parents do not have the emotional capacity themselves to parent with their children’s best interests in mind. Oftentimes parents mimic how they were raised and it’s not necessarily optimal. Being beaten might have made you listen and never repeat a certain behavior again, but it was not because you understood what or why you did something wrong, it was most likely out fear of being beaten again for the same reason. If the beating stops the behavior, parents feel like they are then “off the hook” when it comes to talking to and teaching a child…the problem must be solved right? Wrong.

If you don’t know how to properly teach a child a lesson, it’s not your fault. Most of us are never taught how to raise children. I’m guessing you were never taught how to teach children healthy coping skills, how to deal with negative situations, with impulse control, healthy ways to express their emotions, and how to express their needs. I was never formally taught these things either. It is, however, your fault if you don’t do something about “not knowing” and take the “easy” way out by using physical punishment and neglect.

The rise of mental health issues in this country should be evidence in itself. Most issues of mental illness, addiction and “bad behavior” can be traced back to childhood trauma according to this study (I implore you to read this study). If grandma does it, then mom does it, then kids will eventually do it to their kids too. Some adults have no idea that they are inadvertently continuing the abuse or neglect because that’s how they were raised. Parents too, are more stressed and overwhelmed than ever thanks to the ever-increasing demands of life and the lack of their own mental health treatment. I urge you to listen to the Joe Rogan Podcast featuring Dr. Gabor Mate who discusses toxic culture and childhood trauma and how it plays out in society and adult life. Who is responsible for breaking the toxic cycle? ALL OF US!

Ultimately, parents do have the power to change their lives and the lives of their children. People literally have no more excuses as to why they raise their children the way they do. If they can check football scores online, they can research how to handle and parent their children better. This book has some helpful tips.

Dr. Gabor Mate talks about childhood trauma on the Joe Rogan Podcast

In The News

I am not a big fan of watching or reading the news, but recently I did read several articles about the severe abuse and neglect, which lead to the death of an 8-year-old boy named Thomas Valva in January 2020. His accused abusers and murderers, happen to be his father (an NYPD officer) and his father’s ex-fiancée. According to reports, his teachers and biological mother had filed numerous reports about the care of not only Thomas, but his siblings. The trial is currently under way.

UPDATE: While I was writing this post; another horrific story broke out about another group of siblings being severely abused. Luckily the older set of twins got out of the home and sought help.

Here is some of what was reported: Thomas died of hypothermia on January 17th, 2020, after being forced to sleep in an unheated, locked garage that was reported to be around 19 degrees with little clothing and no access to a bathroom. This was to serve as a “punishment” for the young boy who had an issue with soiling his pants (more on that later). This had apparently been an ongoing form of punishment for several of the children in that house. There is evidence showing that cameras were recording the children and their cries for help were being ignored. Prosecutors have said that the children, whom were possibly on the autism spectrum, were also denied food, access to a bathroom, often arrived at school in soiled clothing, scrounged for food in trash cans, and had numerous other “warning signs.” Suffolk County District Attorney Kerriann Kelly said of the kids that they were, “literally begging for food at school, eating crumbs off the table, eating out of garbage cans, going under bleachers.” Other educators reported seeing the children limping, bruised and shivering. The atrocities of this case go on and on and are quite sickening.

The biological mother had tried to alert the authorities and CPS, as well as the boys’ teachers. One teacher even kept a journal detailing every time Thomas asked for food and testified, “I could feel the bones in his body.” The teacher also noted that, Valva had chastised her and told her not to give Thomas snacks, claiming the child was a “liar who manipulated teachers into giving him food.” If a child is ever seeking out food…that’s a red flag people!

The educators became so worried about the boy and lack of response they began to flood CPS with calls for help.

woman placing her finger between her lips
Photo by Kat Smith on

Why Did the System Fail?

It was noted that the children in this particular case were coached to say that the home was “safe” and to evade the questions. The abusers clearly knew what they were doing was wrong. Many signs often go unseen and/or never reported.

Typically, a child that is being abused, may be abused in multiple ways. A physically abused child, for example, is often emotionally abused as well, and a sexually abused child also may be neglected (or any combination thereof).

If you feel a child is suffering, please don’t stand by and watch it escalate or wait until the time is “right” or you have “proof.” That might be too late. If you have reported abuse and nothing is happening, please contact the police. Trust your instincts. Trust what children say and do. Read between the lines. It’s better to be wrong than risk a child dying. Breaking the cycle of abuse during childhood could also mean saving another child’s life in the future.

Not only does this lack of caregiving negatively impact the direct children involved, but it can also create young adults that think they have “no way out,” and the only option is to harm themselves or others. Many children who hurt other children, have been hurt themselves. The cycle is endless. As the recent events with young adults and children killing others has risen, the root of the problem hasn’t been explored enough in my opinion. Childhood trauma plays out throughout the remainder of most people’s lives. Many times, this shows itself as addictions or adults not being able to function, but there are increasing numbers of people killing and harming other children as a result of their own childhood traumas.


As adults, if you cannot take care of a child with care, then you need to seriously consider putting that child in the care of someone who can care for them immediately before YOU cause more damage (i.e., a supportive friend or relative). Getting yourself the help you need will directly benefit your child or children. Once you are able to parent lovingly again, start slow. Don’t feel ashamed, know that you are doing the right thing. It is ok to ask for help.

If you think “discipline” requires physical punishment or neglect, you are absolutely WRONG. While punishment might have included beatings, spankings and other neglectful behavior in the past and you might be thinking, “well I turned out fine,” it is simply ignorant thinking. Not all humans will “turn out fine.” Depriving children or any human beings of basic necessities (food, water, shelter, healthcare, etc.) as a punishment will never work and is despicable. Human beings were not designed to be in constant survival mode with parents and/or caregivers. This study shows that corporal punishment does in fact negatively impact children. IT SHOULD NEVER HURT TO BE A CHILD, EVER!

If you think it is acceptable to strike a child and not be held accountable in the same way as you would if you stuck an adult, YOU have questionable judgement. If you have a “problem” child, you need to examine all aspects of how that child is being treated and raised first, then look as yourself or their direct caregiver as a major culprit second.

Many times, there are reasons children behave the way they do and oftentimes the behaviors are normal for their age or mentality or ways they deal with stress or other internal and external factors. Some children are “difficult” by nature, but again, there are non-physical ways to deal with them. If you cannot manage to raise children without violence, I suggest you seek help immediately. There are many positive ways to raise children that are not “spoiled” or “entitled,” which is the argument I hear often for the purpose of physically disciplining children.

There is no way to be a perfect parent, but if you are unable to learn better ways to raise a child, you need to resolve that issue or notify someone that you might need help. This book, How to Have a New Kid by Friday, offers ways to discipline children with love and it changed the way I parent entirely.

monochrome photo of sad child hugging a drawing pad
Photo by brother’s photo on

Subtle Signs of Child Abuse

  • The child shows sudden changes in behavior or school performance.
  • The child has not received help for physical or medical problems brought to the parents’ attention.
  • The child has learning problems (or difficulty concentrating) that cannot be attributed to specific physical or psychological cause. Sometimes with non-verbal, autistic or special needs children this is hard to ascertain.
  • The child attempts to go to school or other activities early, stays late, and does not want to go home.
  • The parent or caregiver shows little concern for the child.
  • The parent or caregiver often denies the existence of —or blames the child for— the child’s problems in school or at home.
  • The parent or caregiver sees the child as entirely bad, manipulative, worthless, or burdensome.
  • The parent/caregiver and child rarely touch or look at each other.

Overt Signs of Child Abuse

  • Unexplained burns, bites, bruises, broken bones, or black eyes. Or if something doesn’t seem right.
  • Seems frightened of the parents and protests or cries when it is time to go home.
  • Reports injury by a parent or another adult caregiver.
  • The parent or caregiver offers conflicting, unconvincing, or no explanation for the child’s injury.
  • The parent or caregiver describes the child as “evil,” or in some other very negative way.
  • The parent or caregiver uses harsh physical discipline with the child or is known to have been abused as a child themselves.
close up photo of boy s mouth
Photo by Kat Smith on

Signs of Neglect

  • The child asks often, begs, steals food or money
  • Frequently absences from school.
  • The child lacks sufficient clothing for the weather, seems unclean or has severe body odor.
  • It appears that or the child states that there is no one at home to provide care.
  • Parents can oftentimes appear to be indifferent towards the child or come off as apathetic or depressed themselves. If you know that a parent is abusing drugs or alcohol, that might be another major indicator.

Signs of Sexual Abuse

  • The child reports nightmares or bedwetting. Bowel and bladder issues seem to be the only indictor that something is wrong sometimes (seen in both physical and sexual abuse cases). In the case above, the children had elimination issues, which led to harsh punishment, which essentially reinforced the elimination issues (continuing the cycle of the abuse).
  • The child has difficulty walking or sitting.
  • Demonstrates bizarre, sophisticated, or unusual sexual knowledge or behavior.
  • Talks about or attempts to runs away or talks about harming a parent or caregiver.
  • Parents that tend to isolate their children from others and appears secretive may be hiding something indeed.
  • Parents behavior towards the child or lack thereof might be the only way to make some of these connections.
grayscale photo of a man working
Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on

What to do When Child Abuse is Suspected

There are numerous ways to alert authorities to abuse. When in doubt, call! If you cannot get the results, you are looking for don’t give up, that child is counting on someone to notice and help them. Police can do welfare checks on both children and adults. If you believe someone is in immediate danger or being dangerously neglected, please call 911. This website outlines exactly what resources you have available. has a comprehensive list of resources and contact information. Again, please DO NOT give up trying to help a child in need. You might be the only chance they have at living. Most times you can make anonymous reports.

If you’re having second thoughts about reporting child abuse, just remember that child abuse and neglect are NOT merely a family matters, and the consequences of staying silent can be devastating for the child.

If you have made a report with CPS and you feel the child is still in danger, please alert the police.

If a Child Self Reports

This article also has valuable information. Tips include:

Avoid denial and remain calm. A common reaction to news as unpleasant and shocking as child abuse is denial. However, if you display denial to a child, or show shock or disgust at what they are saying, the child may be afraid to continue and will shut down. As hard as it may be, remain as calm and reassuring as you can. Definitely DO NOT dismiss what they say as lies.

Don’t interrogate. Let the child explain to you in their own words what happened, but don’t interrogate the child or ask leading questions. This may confuse and fluster the child and make it harder for them to continue their story.

Reassure the child that they did nothing wrong. It takes a lot for a child to come forward about abuse. Reassure them that you take what they said seriously, and that it is not their fault.

Safety comes first. If you feel that your safety or the safety of the child would be threatened if you tried to intervene, leave it to the professionals. You may be able to provide more support later.

Personally, I would never leave a child’s side that has disclosed this information to me until I know the authorities are aware and a plan of action is in place.

I have attached a list below to be printed and placed wherever you see fit.

Signs of Abuse and NeglectDownload

Please stand up for what is right. You just might save more than one life. If you disagree with me, feel free to leave a comment below explaining your rationale.

Registered Nurse | Website | + posts

Things Always Get Better - I have truly lived. I’ve had good times and bad times. I’m a mother, a daughter, a sister, a psych nurse and a soon to be wife. I love writing about my passions, what interest me, what interests others, and sharing all of my thoughts with my readers. I want everyone to have the chance to live their happiest life. This blog is truly my own little passion project, gaining more and more traction each day. I hope you enjoy browsing my site and all of the unique content I have to offer. Take a look around; perhaps you’ll discover what fuels you as well. Read on and enjoy!
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