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5 Signs that Indicate Child Abuse
Every day I come across horrific stories of child abuse happening around the world. A more alarming fact it that a majority of the offenders are "known" and come in the form of relatives, neighbors, everyday people we trust and teach our children to trust. In many cases they go undetected for years because the child, (or teen), being abused can be terrified that they won't be believed (and this is what the abuser will probably use to control the situation). So in most cases, they choose to camouflage the abuse and by then, the damage is irreversible with everyone wondering how it could have been prevented.
Today, it’s no more sufficient to just teach our children about the "good" and "bad" touch and assume that we've done our part by educating them. No!
• We need to be vigilant
• We need to stop thinking that it can never happen to our children because we've given them a few tips on how to identify abuse and communicate with us
• We need to be a step ahead, equip ourselves with all there is to know on this "evil subject" and finally but most importantly
• We need to assess our "belief system" and how we might react when we learn that someone close to us is being abused- by someone close to us
Before we try to identify or decode the signs of abuse, we need to know that: abuse is not limited to body contact, bruises or violence alone. It exists in other forms such as, emotional abuse, neglect, and exposing a child to sexual materials or situations.
The signs of abuse can sometimes be confused or dismissed as 'growing pains'- emotional difficulties that happen in adolescence and the early teens. They can also emerge in instances where a family is dealing with equally bigger issues like divorce, death, separation or bullying. Therefore it's important to build a solid communication plan with your children right from the start. Of course, we all know the rebellious teens and how communication can sometimes be one-sided so it's vital that you don't follow an interrogative approach but let your child know you always trust and believe them.
The five signs listed below can be considered possible causes for abuse.
1. Mood swings, anger and withdrawal-children have mood swings and anxiety sometime or the other, so it's never going to be easy to understand the cause of your child's reaction. This is where you brainstorm to arrive at a conclusion:
Did you notice what upset your child?
Was it a particular event, outing, visit or everyday happening?
Has the same activity upset your child before?
Can you identify what happened right before and after the anger or mood swing?
Once you have identified possible triggers it's important to talk to your child and discuss each factor that might have caused the outburst.
2. Changes in eating and altered sleep patterns- another sign that's tricky to decode, there are several factors that cause changes in sleep and food habits. However, frequent waking’s, nightmares, and disturbed sleep could indicate that all is not well. As a child in grade three, I was an unfortunate victim of bullying. My tormentor picked on me every day and threatened me with dire consequences if I reported her. I had terrible sleep issues and nightmares. Thankfully, after a lot of cajoling and talking, my parents were able to sort out the issue in the best possible manner.
3. Fear of particular places or people-children often prefer to show why they're feeling upset so if you notice your child being fearful of certain people or places; its important to step-in and assess what might be causing the fear. In some cases, a child can associate a certain object or situation to the abuse and that can be a cause of fear.If a child is upset about going to a certain place or fearful of a certain person, never criticise or dismiss their feelings. Always pay attention to what they try to tell you.
4. Inappropriate behavior (with toys and objects) or new adult words for body parts-I remember an incident where an acquaintance was talking about how her daughter came home from school one day with an unusual reference to a part of the body. She was very alarmed, coaxed the child into admitting where she'd heard that and managed to get out of the situation before any damage was done. In addition to teaching our children to come forward in such situations, role-play certain instances where your children can identify manipulative, unusual or unhealthy behaviors.
5. Unusual secrecy (in regard to new friends, activities, etc.)-Teens are known to be secretive so this can be tough. This is where trust and communication become vital to understand if something might be wrong. Helping children understand what situations warrant secrecy and cases where secrets can be damaging will give them an idea on when they should come forward to report a problem. It's very important that we keep a tab on all activities and get to know our children's friends and families.
There are several more signs (including physical) that are more evident of abuse but if you notice a combination of the ones mentioned above then you need to be cautious, talk to your child and let them know you are always there to listen and protect them. Our only hope to fight this evil is to be involved, to monitor and communicate, communicate, communicate whenever possible with our children.