While child abuse isn’t just about black eyes, physical abuse is startling due to the marks it leaves. But all abuse and neglect situations leave children with devastating marks – seen or unseen.

Not all child abuse is obvious, but because of the very direct link between substance abuse and child abuse and neglect, it’s important to pay close attention to warning signs a child might display.

We have to start recognizing early signs of abuse in order to save up to five children that die every day in the United States from child abuse and neglect.

Warning Signs of Abuse in Children

Emotional Abuse

  • Overly withdrawn, fearful, or anxious about doing something wrong
  • Extremes in behavior (e.g., demanding, passive, aggressive)
  • Not attached to the parent or caregiver
  • Displays age-inappropriate behavior (e.g., taking care of other children like an adult would or inappropriately infantile by throwing tantrums, etc.)

Physical Abuse

  • Frequent injuries or unexplained bruises, welts, or cuts
  • Always on alert as if waiting for something bad to happen
  • Injuries appear to have a pattern such as marks from a hand or belt
  • Avoids touch, flinches at sudden movements, or seems afraid to go home
  • Wears inappropriate clothing to cover up injuries (e.g., long-sleeved shirts on hot days)


  • 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
  • Is frequently late or missing from school

Sexual Abuse

  • Trouble walking or sitting
  • Displays knowledge of sexual acts or 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
  • Contracts an STD or becomes pregnant – especially under the age of 14
  • Runs away from home

Recognizing Abusive Behavior In Yourself

It’s important to think about: Do you think these signs reflect your child or a child you care for? Do these descriptions reflect your behavior – or someone you love’s behavior – as painful as it might be to admit?

Raising children is a major challenge and can trigger frustration in the world’s best parents. You may have grown up in a household where shouting and violence were the norm, and you may not know any other way to raise your kids.

Recognizing that there is a problem is the biggest step to getting help.

Warning signs that you may be crossing the line with your child:

  • You can’t stop the anger. For example, a swat to the child’s backside may turn into multiple hits getting harder and harder.
  • Feeling emotionally disconnected from your child.
  • Meeting the daily needs of your child seems impossible.
  • Other people in your life are worried and have expressed concern.

In addition, here are a few of the warning signs you may be crossing the line into substance abuse:

  • You neglect your responsibilities at work or at home (e.g., skipping work, neglecting your children) as a result of drug use.
  • Your drug use gets you in legal trouble (e.g., arrests for disorderly conduct, driving under the influence).
  • Your drug use is causing problems in your relationships, such as fights with your spouse, family, colleagues or friends.
  • Your life revolves around drug use. You spend a lot of time using and thinking of drugs, figuring out how to get them, and how to recover from the effects of the drug.
  • You have abandoned activities you used to enjoy (e.g., sports, game nights, book club).
  • You continue to use drugs despite knowing that it hurts. It causes major problems in your life such as blackouts, infections, mood swings, depression … but you keep using anyway.

You’re the most important person in your child’s world – getting help for them is critical. You don’t have to do it alone.

Help someone you love transform their life and start keeping their promise – one day at a time.