What is Child Physical Abuse?
The definition varies and in Singapore where canning is legal confuses the issues of physical abuse. Generally among leading authorities they all agree that physical abuse occurs when a parent or caregiver commits an act that results in physical injury to a child or adolescent, such as red marks, cuts, welts, bruises, muscle sprains, or broken bones, even if the injury was unintentional. Physical abuse can occur when the physical punishment goes too far or a parent lashes out in anger.
Who is physically abused?
Children of all ages, races, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds are at risk for physical abuse. Very young children are the most susceptible to receiving serious injuries.
How to tell if a child is being or has been physically abused?
There may be physical signs, such as welts and bruises in various stages of healing, fingernail marks, human bite marks, burns, lacerations, abrasions in the patern of an instrument, and missing, loose, or broken teeth. It is very possible for a child to be physically abused without anyone noticing if the child’s injuries are hidden by clothing.
There are several indicators that strongly suggest a child is being abused:
· Frequent physical injuries that are attributed to the child’s being clumsy or accident-prone
· Injuries that do not seem to fit the explanation given by the parents or child
· Conflicting explanations provided by child and/or caregiver, explanations that do not fit the injuries, or injuries attributed to accidents that could not have occurred given the child’s age (for example a burn on a child too young to walk or crawl)
· Habitual absence from or lateness to school without a credible reason. Parents may keep children home to hide evidence of abuse until it is healed
· Awkward movements or difficulty walking, this may suggest the child is in pain or suffers from the aftereffects of repeated injuries
What Should you do if you suspect a child is being or has been abused?
In Singapore this is complicated. There are not mandatory reporting laws and often the procedure is to protect the abuser or family member.
If the child is old enough you can ask open-ended questions. Don’t assume the child has been or is being abused. There may be many explanations
If the child has a visible injury, ask how the child was injured. Ask open-ended follow-up questions to look for inconsistencies if the explanation for the injury seems implausible or doesn’t match the injuries.
If you suspect the parents it may not be wise to call them. I had an adult client who was abused as a child, the school called the mother, who was the abuser, the mothe lied took the child home and several punished and then starved the child to “teach her a lesson.” You may need to take to hospital to document injuries and perhaps call the police.
Why don’t children tell about physical abuse?
· Fear their parents will be mad at them or will hurt them worse for telling
· Desire not to get parents into trouble
· Fear of being removed from their home
· A belief that it’s okay for their parent to hurt them
· Fear of not being believed
· Shame or guilt
· Belief that they deserve the abuse for “bad” behavior
Consequences of physical Abuse for families/society
Experts in the field of child behavior believe physical abuse teaches children to be submissive, fearful, and/or aggressive. It also teaches them hitting is a way to control other people and solve problems. The attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that grow out of physical abuse can cause a child to have problems at school, at home and with friends. Sometimes children who have been hit don’t do well at making and keeping friends. They may not trust people in authority. Children may also become fearful of their parents. It can be confusing for children when a parent, the person they depend upon and love the most, hurts them in some way.
Myth: It’s only physical abuse if you mean to hurt your child.
Fact: Even accidental injuries of a child are considered physical abuse by leading authorities and other countries
Myth: Good parents don’t get frustrated or angry with their children
Fact: All parents get angry at their child sometimes. It’s okay to be angry but it is not okay to your child in angry. Develop better parenting skills through courses
Myth: Physical punishment helps parent control their child’s behavior
Fact: Parents who use excessive punishment are not in control. Physical punishment does not teach children how to make good decision, how to determine what is right and wrong or how to control their own behavior. It is linked to bullying and bad behavior and poor life outcomes.
Adapted from the National Childhood Trauma Network