Children & Adolescents Clinic

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Clinical Reference Systems: Pediatric Advisor 10.0

Child Abuse: The Hidden Bruises

The statistics on physical child abuse are alarming. Of the estimated hundreds of thousands of children battered each year by a parent or close relative, thousands die. For those who survive, the emotional trauma remains long after the external bruises have healed. Communities and the courts recognize that these emotional "hidden bruises" can be treated.

Often the severe emotional damage to abused children does not surface until adolescence or later, when many abused children become abusing parents. An adult who was abused as a child has trouble establishing intimate personal relationships. He or she may have a tendency to see all other adults as potential abusers. Men and women who were abused as children often cannot stand to be touched. Without proper treatment, they can remain damaged for life.

Children who have been abused may display:

  • a poor self-image
  • an inability to depend on, trust, or love others
  • aggressive, disruptive, sometimes illegal behavior
  • passive and withdrawn behavior, including a fear of entering into new relationships or activities
  • school failure
  • serious drug and alcohol abuse.

The whole child, including the resultant medical as well as psychological or emotional problems, should be treated. The family can be helped to learn new ways of support and communicating with one another. Through treatment, the abused child can begin to regain a sense of self-confidence and trust.

Battering is not the only kind of child abuse. Many children are victims of neglect, or sexual or emotional abuse. In all kinds of child abuse, the child and the family can benefit from the comprehensive evaluation and care of a professional trained to deal with such problems.

Developed by the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.
Copyright 1999 Clinical Reference Systems