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Childhood Abuse


Childhood abuse is the harmful treatment of children through physical, sexual and emotional abuse or neglect. The majority of child abuse is from the parent(s) or close relatives. Childhood abuse perpetrators are also commonly found in child caring environments such as schools, churches and children's homes. Children suffering abuse can develop psychological problems that affect them throughout their lifetime. Treatment is typically through cognitive behavioural therapy and psychotherapy.
Childhood Abuse

In This Article
Did you know? Causes of childhood abuse
Symptoms of childhood abuse Diagnosis of childhood abuse
Related terms

  • More than 33,000 children are on the child protection register
  • 1-2 children die each week in England and Wales as a result of cruelty
  • On average, every ten days a child is killed by parent
  • Babies are four times more likely to suffer a violent death than the average person
  • An average of 80 child murders are committed in England and Wales each year


Childhood abuse is most commonly committed by parents or close relatives however strangers may also abuse children. Childhood abuse is typically triggered by one or more of these three different factors: parental causes, environmental causes or child problems.

Parental causes
Childhood abuse is likely to come from the parent when there's a background of emotional deprivation. Abuse can also be caused after an unwanted pregnancy or if the child is suffering with a condition such as colic.

Those parents who live in isolation with no support are more likely to abuse their children as are parents who were abused themselves during childhood.

Some parents are unable to distinguish between discipline and abuse and the result is unacceptable and severe physical mistreatment of the child.

Environment causes
Some children experience abuse as a result of the environment they are raised in. Children living in poverty or in overcrowded accommodation are more likely to be abused. Relationship problems between mother and father can result in childhood abuse as can a history of substance misuse (drink, drugs etc.).

Child problems
Physical and psychological disabilities can cause childhood abuse particularly if the child is handicapped or suffers with ADHD. Children who arrive home from school to an empty house can suffer with abuse as can children whose parents have unrealistic expectations of them.


Childhood abuse can present itself in a number of ways such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse or neglect. Recognising the following symptoms and signs should alert adults or friends that abuse may be being carried out although it is not always the case.

Sexual abuse
  • Displaying inappropriate, knowledgeable or overly affectionate behaviour for the child's age
  • Signs of genital pain, itching or venereal disease
  • Self-harm
  • Eating disorders
  • Depression
  • Insecurity
  • Regression (reverting to 'baby' behaviour such as sucking the thumb)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Withdrawal
  • Lack of concentration
  • Loss of trust in someone who is known well
  • Agitation when clothing is removed
  • Drawing explicit pictures
  • Overreacting to criticism
Physical abuse
  • Unexplained injuries (bruising, burns etc.)
  • Wearing clothes to cover injuries (even when hot)
  • Not wanting to undress for sports activities
  • Running away from home
  • Fear of medical examination
  • Fear of physical contact
  • Aggression
  • Self-destructive behaviour
  • Admitting punishment but saying it is excessive
  • Fear the abuser may be contacted

Emotional abuse
  • Slow physical, mental or emotional development
  • Speech disorders
  • Low self-esteem
  • Overly critical or reactionary to mistakes
  • Social phobias
  • Neurotic behaviour (rocking, hair pulling, self-harm)
  • Passivity
  • Aggression

Neglect
  • Constantly claiming hunger
  • Lack of personal hygiene
  • Constant state of tiredness
  • Ripped or unwashed clothing
  • Emaciated
  • Medical problems left untreated
  • Lack of friends
  • Destructive behaviour
  • Scavenging


If you suspect a child is being abused it can be extremely difficult to approach the child and get them to talk. You may need to contact a charitable organisation such as the NSPCC anonymously to get advice however in an emergency you should contact the Police or Social Services immediately.

If a child confides in you they are being abused there are a few steps you can take:
  • Try to remain calm and reassure the child
  • Take them somewhere quiet to talk (but make sure you're not too isolated as the child may become anxious in your company)
  • Believe the child and listen to what they say even if you doubt it at first
  • Acknowledge their feelings and tell them it's not their fault
  • Don't press the child for too much information
  • Tell the child you will help, support and protect them
  • Seek medical assistance or call the Police if necessary
  • If it's your child and they have told another adult such as a teacher you may need to liaise with the school
  • Seek counselling for you and your child
Once the child feels safe, you should contact the appropriate authorities and allow them to deal with the situation. Over reacting yourself and challenging the abuser may result in you getting into trouble which will be of no benefit to the child.




Therapies to consider
Art Therapy Cognitive Behaviour Therapy EFT
Hypnotherapy NLP Psychotherapy
Thought Field Therapy


 

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