Some children are more susceptible to being maltreated than others. Some require a great deal of care (e.g., premature babies or disabled or developmentally delayed children), and others may be difficult to raise (e.g., hyperactive children, children with behavioral problems). These children would fare well in some families, but not in other families where the burden is too great for the parents to cope with the special needs of these children.
Regardless of whether the child has special needs or not, signs of physical abuse often are difficult to interpret with absolute certainty and may be confused with normal childhood injuries, such as bruises.
Behavioral Clues That May Indicate Child AbuseAlthough there are many other potential indicators, the abused child may:
- Be aggressive, oppositional, or defiant
- Cower or demonstrate fear of adults
- Act out, displaying aggressive or disruptive behavior
- Be destructive to self or others
- Come to school too early or not want to leave school—indicating a possible fear of going home;
- Show fearlessness or extreme risk taking
- Be described as "accident prone"
- Cheat, steal, or lie (may be related to too high expectations at home)
- Be a low achiever (to learn, children must convert aggressive energy into learning; children in conflict may not be able to do so)
- Be unable to form good peer relationships
- Wear clothing that covers the body and that may be inappropriate in warmer months (be aware that this may be a cultural issue as well)
- Show regressive or less mature behavior
- Dislike or shrink from physical contact—may not tolerate physical praise such as a pat on the back)
Unlike bruises, abuse directed to the abdomen or the head, which are two particularly vulnerable spots, often are undetected because many of the injuries are internal. Injuries to the abdomen can cause swelling, tenderness, and vomiting. Injuries to the head may cause swelling in the brain, dizziness, blackouts, retinal detachment, or even death. Referred to more recently as the "shaken baby" syndrome, violent shaking can cause severe damage in children at any age.