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Child Maltreatment - Physical Abuse


Physical abuse of a child occurs when someone knowingly harms or places a child in danger. Physical abuse includes punching, beating, kicking, hitting, biting, shaking, throwing, choking, burning, and force-feeding. It may also include disciplining a child with physical punishment that is too much for his age or condition. Harmful force or restraints may also be considered physical abuse.


Call 911 for any of the following:

  • The child feels like harming himself or someone else.
  • The child has trouble breathing, chest pain, or a fast heartbeat.

Return to the emergency department if:

  • The child feels that he cannot cope with the abuse, or recovery from it.

Contact the child's healthcare provider if:

  • The child has new signs and symptoms since the last visit.
  • You have questions or concerns about the child's condition or care.


  • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you give more pain medicine. Ask the child's healthcare provider how to give this medicine safely.
  • Do not give aspirin to children younger than 18 years old. The child could develop Reye syndrome if he takes aspirin. Reye syndrome can cause life-threatening brain and liver damage. Check the child's medicine labels for aspirin, salicylates, or oil of wintergreen.
  • Give the child's medicine as directed. Contact the child's healthcare provider if you think the medicine is not working as expected. Tell him if the child is allergic to any medicine. Keep a current list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs the child takes. Include the amounts, and when, how, and why they are taken. Bring the list or the medicines in their containers to follow-up visits. Carry the child's medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

Follow up with the child's healthcare provider or counselor as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during the child's visits.

Injury or wound care:

If the child has injuries, ask the healthcare provider for information about how to take care of them.

Care for a child victim of physical abuse:

  • Let the child rest as needed. Tell the child's healthcare provider if the child has trouble sleeping.
  • Apply ice and heat as directed. Ice helps decrease swelling and pain. Ice may also help prevent tissue damage. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel and place it on the child's injury for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. After the first 24 to 48 hours, the child's healthcare provider may have you use heat. Heat helps decrease pain and muscle spasms. Apply heat on the area for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours for as many days as directed.
  • Report suspected or known physical abuse. It may be hard to report physical abuse in children, but it is very important. Healthcare providers can help the child if he is at risk for or is a victim of physical abuse. Healthcare providers are required by law to report physical abuse. The child may need to leave the current living situation and be placed in foster care to protect him or from abuse.
  • Take the child for counseling. Physical abuse may cause the child to feel scared, depressed, or anxious. A counselor can help him talk about how he feels.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

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