What You Can Do to Prevent Child Abuse and Neglect

Teenaged girl sitting on steps with a sad look upon her face.

Child abuse and neglect are serious public health concerns. They can have long-term impacts on health. And they are common. At least 1 in 7 children have experienced child abuse or neglect in the past year in the United States. There are 4 common types of child abuse and neglect:

  • Physical abuse, such as hitting, kicking, or shaking a child

  • Sexual abuse, which involves pressuring or forcing a child to engage in sexual acts

  • Emotional abuse, which harms a child's sense of self-worth. Examples include name-calling, shaming, threatening, or rejecting

  • Neglect, which is failing to meet a child's basic physical and emotional needs. This may include neglecting medical care, housing, food, or education.

It can happen in any family and in any neighborhood. Studies have shown that child abuse crosses all boundaries of income, race, ethnic heritage, and religious faith. The incidence is higher in the following groups:

  • Families in which the parents are in their mid-20s

  • High school dropouts or those who lack a high school diploma

  • Families living below the poverty level or financially stressed

  • Families stressed because of a loss of job or home

  • Families with a history of intergenerational abuse

  • Families with alcohol, or substance abuse problems

  • Families with a history of depression

  • Families with spouse abuse

Stopping abuse

Follow these tips for stopping child abuse:

  • Try to understand your children. Learn how kids behave and what they can and can't do at different ages. Have realistic expectations and be reasonable if children fall short.

  • Keep your children healthy. Denying children food, sleep, or healthcare is abuse by neglect.

  • Get help with alcohol or drug problems. Keep children away from anyone who abuses those substances.

  • Watch your words. Angry or punishing language can leave emotional scars for a lifetime.

  • Get control of yourself before disciplining a child. Set clear rules so the child knows what to expect. Avoid physical punishment.

  • Take a time-out. Stop if you begin to act out frustration or other emotions physically. Find someone to talk with or watch your kids while you take a walk. Call a child abuse prevention hotline if you are worried you may hit or harm your child.

  • Make your home a violence-free zone. Turn off violent TV shows and don't let kids stay under the same roof with an abusive adult.

  • Join a support program for new parents.

  • Take regular breaks from your children. This will give you a release from the stress of parenting full-time.

  • Know the signs of child abuse and neglect. These may include unexplained injuries, depression, fear of a certain adult, difficulty trusting others or making friends, sudden changes in eating or sleeping habits, sudden changes in behavior or school performance, inappropriate sexual behavior, keeping secrets, and being aggressive.

  • Use correct names for all body parts and teach your child the correct names of all body parts. Teach your child that no one should ask them to keep secrets from their parents or caregivers, to see or touch their private parts, or for help with an adult's or other child's private parts. If a healthcare professional has to examine these parts of the body, be present.

  • Teach your child it is OK to say "No" to touches that make them uncomfortable. For example, if your child does not want to hug a family member or friend, respect their decision to say “No” to this contact.

Remember that child abuse often repeats itself in the next generation. By doing what you can to prevent it today, you can help save children's lives far into the future.

Online Medical Reviewer: Liora C Adler MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Turley Jr PA-C
Online Medical Reviewer: Stacey Wojcik MBA BSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2023
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.