This section is targeted towards adults because it may contain some sensitive information for children and child abuse victims. The information on this page is to help people you know who have been abused or are being abused. 

The American Society for the Positive Care of Children defines physical child abuse as the intentional act of causing physical injury to a child. This may include burning, biting, poking, twisting limbs, or physically torturing a child.

There is no straightforward answer for why some adults choose to physically abuse their children. To that extent, there are many factors that can increase the risk of the child being abused; these can range from the abuser having a history of abuse in their childhood, to a current substance-abuse problem. For the full list of factors, please click here. 

Physical abuse is not used as a form of disciplining the child, but as a means for the abuser to release their anger, and is a serious crime. Discipline should not include hurting the child in such a way that bruises repeatedly form. If you have any suspicions of a child being physically abused, please refer to the list below:


Signs that physical child abuse MAY be currently occurring:​

  • Unexplained burns, bites, bruises, broken/dislocated/fractured bones, or black eyes

  • Child shrinks at approaching adults

  • Swelling

  • Breathing problems

  • Seizures 

  • Obvious attempts at hiding bruises and injuries

  • Child is wearing clothing not appropriate to the weather (ex. long-sleeves or high collars on hot days)

  • Repeatedly absent from school

  • Explanations for injuries that do not make sense 

  • Difficulty moving (child could be suffering from the pain of his/her injuries)

These signs can also be some of the aftereffects of physical abuse:

  • Depression 

  • Addiction to drugs/alcohol

  • Excessive fear/anxiety

  • Eating disorders

  • Criminal behavior

  • Inability to concentrate

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Aggressive behavior

  • Hostility towards others

  • Apathy

  • Extremely passive behavior

  • Lack of trust in relationships

  • Feelings of being worthless

  • Suicidal thoughts

Keep in mind that just because a child has some of these signs, does not always mean that they are being abused: they could be simply be accidental injuries. However, if the child has injuries on the buttocks, genitalia, the back of their legs, or cheeks, that should be a cause for concern because it takes a greater amount of force to cause bruising in these areas. Simple falls or even disciplinary spanking with the palm should not be forceful enough to cause bruising to these areas. Protected areas such as ears, neck, and upper lip are also concerning because it is difficult to accidentally bump or fall on these areas. Belt marks, grab marks, or even slap marks can be indicative of physical abuse.