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The following activities and behaviors are examples of child abuse; however, the behaviors listed here are not all-inclusive. Any activity that harms a child’s physical or emotional health and development can constitute child abuse. Be aware that some indicators may indicate that a child is struggling in some way with family or personal issues but not necessarily with abuse.

Child Abuse Behaviors and Indicators


*Adapted from information provided by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).




Physical Abuse Example Behaviors

  • Punching/Beating, either with the hand or with an instrument (hitting with excessive force, hitting that leaves a mark, etc.)
  • Whipping
  • Burning
  • Choking/Strangling
  • Deprivation of food or being forced to kneel for long periods of time
  • Breaking bones
  • Physical torture
  • Physical intimidation/aggression/violence

Possible Indicators:

  • Bruises (esp. in the shape of hand/finger marks), burns (esp. in the shape of an instrument), scalds, sprains, human bites, cuts, etc.
  • Injuries the child cannot explain or explains poorly
  • Untreated or inadequately treated injuries
  • Injuries to parts of the body where accidents are unlikely (ex: Thighs/back/abdomen)
  • Flinching when approached/touched by adults
  • Showing fear of certain adults
  • Alternatively—increasingly aggressive or very compliant/passive behavior

Sexual Abuse Example Behaviors

Involving child contact or non-contact sexual activity.

  • Contact sexual activity includes:
    • Penetrative (rape, prostitution) or non-penetrative (kissing, fondling, etc.) sexual activity.
  • Non-contact sexual activity includes:
    • Showing sexual images to child
    • Taking sexual images of child
    • Sexually explicit talk/text/correspondence
    • Sexually suggestive Internet contact

Possible Indicators:

  • Pain/itching/bruising/bleeding in the genital or anal areas
  • Genital pains or discomfort walking or sitting
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • A marked change in the child’s general behavior (unusually quiet/withdrawn or unusually aggressive)
  • Sudden change in dress (more provocative or more baggy-loose)
  • Eating disorders
  • Sexualized drawings or graphic sexualized play or language, especially in young children
  • Unexpected fear or distrust of particular adult(s)
  • Description of special attention or a ‘secret’

Emotional Abuse Example Behaviors

Emotional abuse is pattern behavior. Here are some examples:

  • Verbal intimidation
  • Coercion
  • Manipulation
  • Showing abusive images
  • Using abusive language or verbal bullying
  • Over-admonishing, over-criticizing, putting down
  • Inducing fear through controlling behaviors

Possible Indicators:

  • Failure to thrive in a situation, especially when the child thrives in other circumstances
  • Extreme fear or anxiety of making mistakes/insecurity
  • Low self-esteem
  • Inappropriate emotional responses

Neglect Example Behaviors

  • Failure to provide adequate medical care or adequate food
  • Failure to provide education
  • Failure to provide shelter or safe living conditions
  • Failure to provide age-appropriate supervision

Possible Indicators:

  • Untended medical needs
  • Malnourishment
  • Gaps in education/learning for an otherwise developmentally on-target child
  • Frequent hunger
  • Frequently found unsupervised/alone
  • A child may also be subjected to a combination of different kinds of abuse
  • It is also possible that a child may show no outward signs of trauma.