Not necessarily. If you suspect child abuse, I would speak with a counselor as to the signs of such. Child abuse is a very serious accusation. Don't make such allegations unless you're sure that you can prove them.
I would suspect Child Protective Services in your County would have a brochure to help people understand what defines child abuse, and what should be done if it is witnessed. Additionally, you can go on the Internet or go to the Law Library to obtain statutes that describe child abuse.
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Interesting you would use the term "rule of thumb" in a question about child abuse. My understanding of this term is it was once considered illegal to beat your wife with a stick larger than your thumb...the "rule of thumb."
In any event, parents get frustrated and speak unkindly to their children sometimes. It rises to the level of emotional abuse, in the context of a CPS investigation, when it has a significant effect on the child.
Look at Welfare and Institutions Code section 300 - you will find the definitions...