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Child Abuse and Neglect - Symptoms

Symptoms of emotional abuse

Emotional abuse means doing or saying things to hurt a child emotionally. For example, the adult may say things to make the child feel unwanted or worthless. A child who is emotionally abused may:

  • Not care much about what is going on around him or her.
  • Not react normally to pain, other people, or changes in his or her life.
  • Avoid a particular parent or caregiver.
  • Act more fearful, angry, or sad than would seem normal.
  • Not do well in school.
  • Hurt himself or herself on purpose.
  • Do things that are harmful, such as use drugs or have an eating disorder.

Symptoms of sexual abuse

A child with symptoms of recent sexual abuse may:

  • Not want to go to the bathroom.
  • Show signs of discomfort or pain while sitting, urinating, or passing stools.
  • Have discharge from the vagina or penis.
  • Bleed through his or her pants.

Certain ways of behaving may also point to sexual abuse. These include:

Sexual abuse versus normal sexual play

Sexual abuse is very different from normal sexual play between children who have not reached puberty.

Normal sexual play between children of similar ages is usually touching and looking. No force is used.

Sexual abuse includes any sexual activity that the child is not able to understand or consent to. Besides obvious sexual acts, examples include fondling and showing pornography to a child.

Symptoms of neglect

Child neglect means not providing a child with his or her basic needs. A child's general appearance, home environment, and behavior patterns can show signs of neglect.

A child who is neglected may:

  • Be very underweight or overweight.
  • Be developmentally delayed.
  • Be sick or tired most of the time.
  • Be dirty or have poor personal hygiene.
  • Not have the right clothes for the weather.

This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: December 07, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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