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Child Maltreatment - Physical Abuse

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Feb 6, 2023.

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 or her age or condition. Harmful force or restraints may also be considered physical abuse.


Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) for any of the following:

  • The child has feelings of self-harm or harming someone else.
  • The child has trouble breathing, chest pain, or a fast heartbeat.

Call the child's doctor 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. Ask the child's healthcare provider how to give this medicine safely. Some prescription pain medicines contain acetaminophen. Do not give the child other medicines that contain acetaminophen without talking to a healthcare provider. Too much acetaminophen may cause liver damage. Prescription pain medicine may cause constipation. Ask the child's healthcare provider how to prevent or treat constipation.
  • Do not give aspirin to children younger than 18 years old. The child could develop Reye syndrome if he or she 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 or her 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.

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:

  • 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 or she 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 her from abuse.
  • Watch the child for any changes. You may notice changes in behavior or health. Report any changes to the child's doctor or counselor.
  • Listen to child as he or she plays, talks to others, or talks to you. A child may act out what has happened while he or she is playing. He or she may tell you or others some of what has happened. Do not interrupt or ask questions. The child may stop talking.

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

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

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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.