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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.

Common signs and symptoms of physical abuse in children:

The child may have unexplained repeated falls or injuries. He or she may have old injuries that were never treated. He or she may also have any of the following:

  • Vomiting or fussiness
  • Scratches, bite marks, or marks from objects used for restraining, such as belts, ropes, or electrical cords
  • Broken or dislocated bones
  • Bruises, cuts, or scars
  • Scars or burns from cigarettes, irons, or hot water
  • Blood or discharge coming from the nose, mouth, or eyes
  • Unusual loss of body hair, or a low body weight
  • Fights, absences, or other problems at school
  • Trouble being social
  • Depression, self-esteem problems, or trouble sleeping
  • Fear of strangers, or clinging onto strangers or healthcare providers

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.


A child who has been physically abused may be placed in a home or daycare center. Services may be offered to make sure the child is safe and healthy.

  • Counseling may help the child feel less scared, depressed, or anxious. A counselor can help him or her talk about feelings.
  • Medicines may be needed to help ease pain, or to treat or prevent an infection. Medicines may also be given if the child has other medical conditions.
  • Surgery may be needed to treat the child's injuries. Surgery can help fix a broken bone. Surgery may also be needed to correct a deformity caused by his or her injuries.

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.