Written by Avvo Staff

Child Abuse Types

There are four major types of child abuse: physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, and emotional/psychological abuse. ( It's common to see more than one type in a case of child abuse. Any type of child abuse can affect any child at any age. States define the behaviors that make up child abuse types.

Physical abuse

Physical abuse is hurting a child by punching, beating, kicking, biting, shaking, throwing, stabbing, choking, hitting, or burning. Physical abuse may happen once or over a period of time. If a child is injured during a harsh punishment, it is considered physical abuse,even if harming the child wasn't the intent of the parent or caretaker.

Signs of physical abuse include unexplained burns, bites, bruises, broken bones, black eyes, or fading bruises after an absence from school. A child may also seem frightened of his parents or other adults and anxious about returning home. While a single sign may not signify a problem, repeated signs or signs in combination may indicate physical abuse.


Neglect is failing to provide for a child's basic needs. It can include physical, medical, educational, and emotional neglect. Neglectful behaviors include abandonment; inadequate food, clothing or hygiene; refusal to provide or seek medical care for a child; lack of affection; failure to ensure that a child receives an education; and exposure to extreme spousal abuse.

Neglect may be an issue if a child is always dirty, is often absent from school, lacks medical or dental care, abuses alcohol or drugs, or is frequently left unsupervised-though there may be an explanation other than neglect for some of these behaviors, such as poverty or cultural values.

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse includes sexual acts or sexual exploitation involving children. These include intercourse, incest, rape, sodomy, indecent exposure, fondling a child's genitals, and use of a child in prostitution or pornography.

Sexual abuse may be present if a child has trouble walking or sitting, won't change for or participate in gym class, shows unusual or mature sexual knowledge or behavior, or becomes pregnant or contracts a venereal disease, particularly when younger than 14.

Emotional abuse

Emotional abuse refers to a pattern of behavior that includes constant criticism, rejection, threats, ridicule, and a lack of affection, love, support, and guidance. Emotional abuse hurts a child's emotional development and sense of self-worth and can cause serious behavioral, mental, and emotional disorders and learning disabilities.

Signs of emotional abuse may include extremes in behavior, delays in physical or emotional development, suicide attempts, age-inappropriate maturity or immaturity, and a lack of closeness to the parent. Children typically experience emotional abuse along with other types of abuse and neglect.

Additional resources:

Child Welfare Information Gateway: Types (

Prevent Child Abuse America: Recognizing Child Abuse-What Parents Should Know (

Child Welfare League of America: Health Tips-Child Abuse Prevention (

Additional resources:

The Basics of Child Abuse

Child Abuse Consequences (

Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (

Psychological Child Abuse (

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