Info for Parents

Warning Signs of Child Abuse and Neglect

*From "Child Abuse and Neglect: Recognizing and Preventing Child Abuse"

Warning Signs of Emotional Abuse in Children:

  • Excessively withdrawn, fearful, or anxious about doing something wrong.
  • Shows extremes in behavior (extremely compliant or extremely demanding; extremely passive or extremely aggressive).
  • Doesn’t seem to be attached to the parent or caregiver.
  • Acts either inappropriately adult (taking care of other children) or inappropriately infantile (rocking, thumb-sucking, tantruming).

Warning Signs of Physical Abuse in Children

  • Frequent injuries or unexplained bruises, welts, or cuts.
  • Is always watchful and “on alert,” as if waiting for something bad to happen.
  • Injuries appear to have a pattern such as marks from a hand or belt.
  • Shies away from touch, flinches at sudden movements, or seems afraid to go home.
  • Wears inappropriate clothing to cover up injuries, such as long-sleeved shirts on hot days.

Warning Signs of Neglect in Children

  • Clothes are ill-fitting, filthy, or inappropriate for the weather.
  • Hygiene is consistently bad (unbathed, matted and unwashed hair, noticeable body odor).
  • Untreated illnesses and physical injuries.
  • Is frequently unsupervised or left alone or allowed to play in unsafe situations and environments.
  • Is frequently late or missing from school.

Warning Signs of Sexual Abuse in Children

  • Trouble walking or sitting.
  • Displays knowledge or interest in sexual acts inappropriate to his or her age, or even seductive behavior.
  • Makes strong efforts to avoid a specific person, without an obvious reason.
  • Doesn’t want to change clothes in front of others or participate in physical activities.
  • An STD or pregnancy, especially under the age of 14.
  • Runs away from home.

Tips for Talking to Children About Safety

(Adapted from the NYU Child Study Center)

There are no helpful stereotypes of who might be a perpetrator. It is important to help your children build the skills and self-esteem that they need to help keep them safe while also giving them the tools to tell someone if they don't feel safe.  Federal statistics show that perpetrators of sexual abuse are most commonly friends or neighbors (57.7%), followed by other relatives (32.0%) and child daycare providers (23.9%). (U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources)

Tips when Talking with Your Children:

  • Always start discussions with your child at a general level. Keep in mind some facts about your child’s cognitive and emotional development.
  • Start by setting up a general frame work for discussion.  For example:
  • “It’s important that we talk about this every once in a while, because it’s a way that I make sure you’re safe and I can teach you ways to stay safe.”  Only your parents and your doctor are ever supposed to touch your private parts.” Good touch – appropriate hugs, kisses, pats.  Bad touch – private parts, anything that makes you uncomfortable that doesn’t stop. This is a good opportunity to talk with your kids about body boundaries and respect, in general.
  • Ask open ended questions: “Has anyone at school or camp or church ever touched you in a bad way, or made you do anything you didn’t like?”  “Tell me about that”
  • Be calm and emphasize your acceptance: “You can always tell me if something like that happens. I won’t be mad at you.”
  • Emphasize safety: “Who are other people you can tell who can keep you safe?” “If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, you can always tell me, or a teacher, and we will protect you”.
  • Reassure your child that if someone touches him inappropriately, it is never his fault; he is not to blame. Say you appreciate being told.

Since children at this age can incorporate hints or possibilities into their beliefs about a specific situation, it is important not to encourage your child to embroider. For example:

  • Avoid:  suggesting that something happened. e.g. “He did that, didn’t he?”
  • Avoid: asking questions over and over again – it will communicate to your child that something is wrong, when nothing may have happened.
  • Avoid: putting words in their mouths or suggesting who, when or where something might have happened

Be patient: This will be challenging if you are worried about your child.  You may ask about a situation in a routine way, and she may not answer you right away.  Be attentive for an answer some time after you ask about it.

DVCAC offers a Personal Safety Skills Program which educates school-aged children on how to recognize and respond to unsafe situations and to find a trusted adult to help. For more information about this program, please click here.

Tips for Effective Discipline:

There is no single solution for our disciplinary concerns. However, there are some guidelines to constructive discipline.

  • Constructive discipline allows a child to have positive self-esteem; disapprove of what a child does, not of what the child is.
  • Praise your child's behavior.
  • Be positive. Use "do" or "let's" instead of "no" or "don't" and use positive rather than negative suggestions or statements and give alternatives.
  • Throw out rules you are unwilling to enforce.
  • Develop realistic expectations. Don't expect too much from a young child.
  • Do try and explain rules.
  • Model behavior you expect.
  • Avoid power struggles.
  • Avoid harsh punishment. It encourages violent behavior and does not teach self-control.
  • Consequences should be reasonable, prompt and related to the misbehavior for them to be effective.

How Do You Know When You’'ve Crossed the Line?

*From "Child Abuse and Neglect: Recognizing and Preventing Child Abuse"

  • You Can’t Stop the Anger.
  • What starts as a swat on the backside may turn into multiple hits getting harder and harder. You may shake your child harder and harder and finally throw him or her down. You find yourself screaming louder and louder and can'’t stop yourself.
  • You feel emotionally disconnected from your child. You may feel so overwhelmed that you don’t want anything to do with your child. Day after day, you just want to be left alone and for your child to be quiet.
  • Meeting the daily needs of your child seems impossible. While everyone struggles with balancing dressing, feeding, and getting kids to school or other activities, if you continually can’t manage to do it, it’s a sign that something might be wrong.
  • Other people have expressed concern. It may be easy to bristle at other people expressing concern. However, consider carefully what they have to say. Are the words coming from someone you normally respect and trust? Denial is not an uncommon reaction.

If you find yourself angry, here are some ways to replace your anger and learn new feelings and more productive behaviors.

Breaking the Cycle of Child Abuse

If you have a history of child abuse, having your own children can trigger strong memories and feelings that you may have repressed. This may happen when a child is born, or at later ages when you remember specific abuse to you. You may be shocked and overwhelmed by your anger, and feel like you can’t control it. But you can learn new ways to manage your emotions and break your old patterns.

Remember, you are the most important person in your child’s world. It’s worth the effort to make a change, and you don’t have to go it alone. Help and support are available.

Helping an Abused or Neglected Child

From "Child Abuse and Neglect: Recognizing and Preventing Child Abuse"

What should you do if you suspect that a child has been abused? How do you approach him or her? Or what if a child comes to you? It’s normal to feel a little overwhelmed and confused in this situation. Child abuse is a difficult subject that can be hard to accept and even harder to talk about.

Just remember, you can make a tremendous difference in the life of an abused child, especially if you take steps to stop the abuse early. When talking with an abused child, the best thing you can provide is calm reassurance and unconditional support. Let your actions speak for you if you’re having trouble finding the words. Remember that talking about the abuse may be very difficult for the child. It’s your job to reassure the child and provide whatever help you can.

Tips for Talking to an Abused Child

  • 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.
  • Don'’t interrogate. Let the child explain to you in his or her 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 him or her that you take what is said seriously, and that it is not the child’s fault.
  • Safety comes first. If you feel that your safety or the safety of the child would be threatened if you try to intervene, leave it to the professionals. You may be able to provide more support later after the initial professional intervention.

Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect
If you suspect a child is being abused, it’s critical to get them the help he or she needs. Reporting child abuse seems so official. Many people are reluctant to get involved in other families’ lives.

Understanding some of the myths behind reporting may help put your mind at ease if you need to report child abuse

I don’t want to interfere in someone else’s family. The effects of child abuse are lifelong, affecting future relationships, self-esteem, and sadly putting even more children at risk of abuse as the cycle continues. Help break the cycle of child abuse.

What if I Break Up Someone’'s Home?

The priority in child protective services is keeping children in the home. A child abuse report does not mean a child is automatically removed from the home - unless the child is clearly in danger. Support such as parenting classes, anger management or other resources may be offered first to parents if safe for the child.

They Will Know it Was Me Who Called.

Reporting is anonymous. In most states, you do not have to give your name when you report child abuse. The child abuser cannot find out who made the report of child abuse.

It Won'’t Make a Difference What I Have to Say.

If you have a gut feeling that something is wrong, it is better to be safe than sorry. Even if you don’t see the whole picture, others may have noticed as well, and a pattern can help identify child abuse that might have otherwise slipped through the cracks.