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Child Maltreatment - Physical Abuse

Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 6, 2024.

What is physical abuse of a child?

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.

What increases a child's risk for physical abuse?

A child's risk for physical abuse increases as he or she gets older. The following also increase the risk:

What are the signs and symptoms of physical abuse?

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:

How is physical abuse diagnosed?

Healthcare providers who specialize in child abuse will examine the child's body. They will look for injuries caused by physical abuse. The child may be asked if he or she has been hit or slapped. Healthcare providers may also want to know who the abuser is, and how long the abuse has been taking place. The child's body may need to be examined or photographed to record the physical abuse. He or she may also need any of the following:

How is physical abuse treated?

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.

What are the risks of physical abuse?

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.

How can I care for a child victim of physical abuse?

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

When should I call the child's doctor?

Care Agreement

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. 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.

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Further information

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