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How to Handle Abuse

Lee este articuloGrown-ups are usually there to help and encourage kids, right? They take care of kids, help them learn how to do things, show them the right way to behave, and encourage the good things that kids do. Most adults treat kids well. But some adults hurt kids rather than help them. Another word for hurting someone is “abuse.”

Child abuse (say: ah-BYOOS) can affect all kinds of kids, no matter where they live, how much money their families have, or who they live with. A kid can be abused by a parent, a stepparent, family member, a babysitter, teacher, coach, or a bigger kid.

Child abuse can happen anywhere — at home, school, childcare, or even in a church or other religious building.

Tell Right Away

A kid who is being seriously hurt or harmed should tell a trusted adult right away. This can be hard because the abuser (the person who is hurting or harming someone) might have frightened the boy or girl into staying quiet. No matter what the abuser says, abuse is always wrong — and a kid can ask for and get help in a few different ways.

A kid who can’t think of a trusted adult to tell, or is worried about upsetting a parent or making someone angry, can call a special telephone number called a helpline, such as 1-800-4-A-CHILD. This hotline is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Your call is private and the people who answer the phone are trained to help. They also have a website where you can get help:

If you know someone else who you think might be being abused, you can help by telling your parent or another adult.

How Do You Know Something Is Abuse?

There are lots of forms of abuse — including hitting, constant screaming and yelling, or being touched sexually. A kid who is being abused can experience different types of abuse or one kind. It helps to understand the different types of abuse: physical, sexual, verbal or emotional, and neglect.

Physical abuse: Physical abuse is hitting hard with a hand or an object like a belt, especially hits that leave bruises or cuts. Shaking, pushing, choking, painful grabbing, and kicking also can be physical abuse.

Sexual abuse: Your body has private parts. These are the parts that are covered by your bathing suit or underwear: breasts, vagina, and bottom for girls, and penis and bottom for boys. If an adult or another kid touches a kid’s private parts or tells a kid to touch his or hers, it is sexual abuse. When this happens, the person might tell the kid that this touching is a secret and that not to tell anyone. But a kid does not have to keep this secret. Tell a trusted adult, or more than one, until someone helps you.

To explain sexual abuse, people talk about good touches and bad touches. We all know what a good touch feels like. A good touch might be a hug from your mom or dad, a snuggle with your grandma for a story, or a cuddle with your pet. But some touches feel bad or confusing. Your body is yours and you should be able to tell people when you don’t like them to touch you. Even if you don’t mind doing it or are curious, or want to make that person feel happy, sexual touching between adults and kids is not OK.

Verbal or emotional abuse: This kind of abuse can happen without touching. It can be verbal abuse if someone yells all the time, calls the kid mean names, or threatens to leave the kid or have him or her adopted. All kids deserve to have adults in their lives who love and support them as they grow up. It’s common for parents get angry with their kids once in a while, but if there’s yelling, punishing, and threatening too much of the time, a kid can start feeling really bad about himself or herself. It’s really important to tell a trusted adult this is happening.

Physical neglect: Neglect happens when kids live in a home where the adults don’t give them basic stuff that all kids need — like food, clean clothes, and a bed to sleep in. When parents or caretakers neglect kids, the kids may not get baths, sleep under warm blankets, or get checkups or medicine when they need them.

It can be hard for a kid to tell someone that he or she is not getting these important things. A parent or caregiver might have troubles such as losing a job, having family problems, or using alcohol or drugs. But no matter why it is happening, a kid needs to tell someone. Then, the kid can start getting the stuff he or she needs and the parent or caregiver can get help, too.

How to Tell Someone What Is Happening

You know it’s important for kids to tell someone if they think they’re being hurt, harmed, or abused. But how does a kid tell? Here are some ideas:

  • Talk to a trusted adult in person.
  • Talk to a trusted adult on the phone.
  • Write a note, an email, or send a letter to the trusted adult.
  • Tell someone at school, like a school counselor, school nurse, teacher, or coach.
  • Tell a friend’s mom or dad, big brother, or big sister.
  • Tell someone who answers the phone at a hotline service, such as 1-800-4-A-CHILD.

The way a kid tells and whom a kid tells will be different depending on the situation. The most important thing is to tell someone — or even several people — until someone takes action to stop the abuse from happening. Kids who let adults know that someone is hurting them, even if it’s someone they love, might be helping other kids as well as themselves. Let the person know you need to talk about something in private. If you’re not sure if it’s abuse, you can tell the person that something happened and you want to check to see if it might be abuse.

It takes a lot of courage to talk about this kind of thing, and sometimes it takes a while to feel strong enough to talk about it. That’s OK. Just know that, in the end, telling a safe person is the bravest thing a kid can do. It can feel really good when a kid takes steps to stay safe and happy and stop abuse from happening.

Reviewed by: D’Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: September 2013