It is important for anyone interacting with children — whether a parent, relative, or teacher — to become educated about warning signs of child abuse. Here are 10 signs you should look for:
Abuse can cause many changes in a child’s behavior. Extreme behaviors like withdrawal, aggression, regression, or depression may indicate abuse. Similarly, sudden changes in school or extra-curricular activity performance can be an indicator as well.
2. Fears of home or adults
Children experiencing abuse may express hesitation or worry about leaving a homeschool co-op or returning to the person abusing them. If a child seems excessively reluctant to hang out with someone, or goes out of the way to avoid home (by coming to a co-op class or other activities early, staying late, etc.), that could indicate abuse. Abused children may also shrink at the approach of adults.
3. Unexplained injuries
A child with unexplained injuries — such as burns or bruises in the shape of objects, or broken bones — may be experiencing abuse. Such a child might explain the injuries in inconsistent or unbelievable ways. If a child has noticeable yet fading bruises or other marks after an absence from school or social activities, that could indicate abuse.
4. Age-inappropriate sexual behaviors
Sexually abused children may demonstrate unusually sophisticated or mature sexual knowledge or behavior. This could include abnormal interest in sexual matters, overly sexualized behavior, and/or sexually explicit language.
5. Physical difficulties
Developmental delays (especially related to speech or motor skills), difficulties with walking or sitting, or regressing to early behaviors like bed-wetting could all indicate emotional, physical, or sexual abuse.
6. Changes in eating
Abuse causes immense anxiety and stress for children. Those can lead to noticeable changes in children’s eating patterns and contribute to erratic weight gain or weight loss. Eating disorders (including either obesity or anorexia) as well as chronic hunger or tiredness can also be caused by abuse. A child who begs or steals food (or money for food) may be experiencing neglect at home.
7. Lack of personal care or resources
Children experiencing abuse or neglect may appear uncared for. Signs to be on the look-out for include: uncleanliness, severe body odor, untreated conditions like sores or untreated injuries, squinting, lack of sufficient clothing (or dressed improperly for the current weather conditions), and lack of medical or dental care.
8. Assuming adult responsibilities
While homeschooled children are often noted to be mature for their age in a positive way, it is important to realize that excessive responsibility-taking and maturation can be a sign of physical neglect or sexual abuse. Children may want to appear older than they are and thus engage in high-risk activities (such as using drugs or alcohol), express age-inappropriate detachment from their parents, or act in inappropriately adult ways (always parenting other children, for example).
9. Habit disorders
Due to the anxiety and stress abuse causes, abused children may exhibit self-harming habits or nervous tics like biting objects, rocking back and forth, hitting themselves, or cutting. These habits or tics might become more pronounced when in the presence of an abuser.
10. Disclosing abuse
This may seem obvious, but if children disclose abuse, maltreatment, or neglect to you, believe them.
It is important to note that the above 10 warning signs are not all the potential signs of abuse or neglect. Any behavior a child exhibits that seems unusual or concerning should be taken seriously by parents and teachers in your homeschool co-op or community. When it comes to preventing child abuse, it always better to be safe than sorry.
Additional resources for recognizing child abuse:
• Safe Horizons, “10 Signs of Child Abuse”
• Tennyson Center for Children, “How to Recognize Child Abuse”
• Children’s Bureau, “What Is Child Abuse and Neglect? Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms”