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Child Maltreatment - Physical Abuse

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 5, 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.


Informed consent

is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that your child may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your child's medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done to your child. Make sure all of your questions are answered.


At first, the child may need to rest in bed and get plenty of sleep. If he or she has trouble breathing or chest pain, call healthcare providers right away.


  • Antibiotics may be needed to help prevent or treat a bacterial infection.
  • Pain medicine may be given. Do not let the child wait until the pain is severe before you ask for more pain medicine. Tell healthcare providers if you think the child's pain continues or gets worse.
  • A tetanus shot can prevent the child from getting tetanus, and may be given if he or she has an open wound. The child should have a tetanus shot if he or she has not had one in the past 5 to 10 years. His or her arm may get red, swollen, and sore from this shot.

Your child may need extra oxygen

if his or her blood oxygen level is lower than it should be. Oxygen may be given through a mask or through small tubes placed in your child's nostrils. Ask a healthcare provider before you take off the mask or tubing.


  • Blood and urine tests may show signs of an infection. They may also be used to get information about the child's overall health.
  • Neurologic signs are also called neuro signs, neuro checks, or neuro status. During a neuro check, healthcare providers see how the child's pupils react to light. They may check the child's memory and how easily he or she wakes up. Hand grasp and balance may also be tested. How the child responds to the neuro checks can tell healthcare providers if the illness or injury has affected his or her brain.
  • X-ray, MRI, or CT scan pictures may show any broken or displaced bones, or internal injuries. The pictures may also show bleeding or joint dislocations. The child may be given contrast liquid to help healthcare providers see any injuries better. Tell the healthcare provider if the child has ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not let the child enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if the child has any metal in or on his or her body.


  • Counseling may help the child feel less scared, depressed, or anxious. A counselor can help him or her talk about feelings.
  • 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 injury.


If the child is placed in a foster home or care, it may be hard to be away from family or friends. Counseling may be emotionally difficult and painful. The child may have changes in behavior and school performance. He or she may develop other serious problems. These include running away from home, alcohol or drug use, depression, and problems with self-esteem, moods, and relationships. Repeated acts of violence may lead to severe injuries and be life-threatening. He or she may have thoughts of self-harm or harming others.


You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child.

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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.