When people think of child abuse their first tendency is to think of physical abuse. Frequent and unexplained bruises and other injuries can be clear signs a child is being physically abused. However, there are many other forms of child abuse that may not be so easily identified. Emotional and sexual abuse, plus neglect are other forms of mistreatment that may be more difficult to recognize. Many times the signs of child abuse manifest themselves in less obvious ways. Here are 10 of the subtle signs a child is being abused.
- Wary of adults – Children who are abused by their parents or other authority figures are denied the security they need in that relationship. This can cause them to be very wary of any adults they encounter.
- Flinching – Victims of abuse are likely to cringe or flinch when approached or touched unexpectedly. This is a common reflexive reaction for someone who is continually hit or slapped for no reason.
- Vacant stare – Young children or babies who are being abused are prone to stare vacantly into space for extended periods of time. Everyone occasionally daydreams, but when this becomes a noticeable pattern of behavior, it can be subtle sign of abuse.
- Withdrawn – One of the more common signs of abuse is when a child is extremely withdrawn. This withdrawal from social interaction is an emotional defense to deal with an abusive relationship.
- Aggression – The opposite reaction to abuse is for a child to display overly aggressive behavior. Abused kids who don’t have the ability to control their situation may feel compelled to strike out or try to control others.
- Seeking affection – It’s only natural for a child that feels deprived of affection from their parents to seek it from others. A kid who is continually craving affection and attention from others may be displaying a subtle sign of being abused.
- Eager to please – Kids who live in an abusive environment may be continually punished for no reason. The slightest infraction of unrealistic expectations can result in a physical or verbal beating. This can cause them to develop an overly eager-to-please behavior pattern.
- Drawings – Young children who are unable to communicate problems verbally may subtly convey abusive behavior in their pictures or drawings. Caregivers can learn how to watch for signs of violence or abuse in the pictures kids draw.
- Extreme behavior – Another subtle sign of mistreatment is when a child displays huge extremes in their behavior. These are actions or expressions that are well beyond normal limits. They could be extremely passive or extremely aggressive; extremely compliant or extremely demanding.
- Failure to thrive – Probably the most subtle sign a child is being abused is simply a failure to thrive. When other children are growing and learning this child just doesn’t seem to keep up and continually falls behind for no apparent reason.
Of course, an occasional display of these signs doesn’t indicate a child is being abused. It’s only when these warning signs become pronounced and a pattern develops that you should become concerned. You need to dig deeper to find out what’s really going on and that can be extremely difficult to do. Abused children are programmed to cover up the mistreatment and are usually threatened with severe punishment for revealing the truth. Your best approach is to be calm and reassuring while providing unconditional support. If you’re convinced that a child is being abused, report it to the authorities so that trained professionals can handle the situation.