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Abuse: What Kids Need to Know

Article Translations: (Spanish)

Most adults treat kids well, but some adults hurt kids rather than help them. Another word for hurting someone is "abuse."

"Do You Need Help?"

Child abuse (say: ah-BYOOS) can affect all kinds of kids, no matter where they live, how much money their families have, how old they are, or who they live with. A kid can be abused by a parent, a stepparent, another family member, a babysitter, teacher, coach, or another kid.

Child abuse can happen anywhere — at home, school, childcare, at a friend's house, or even in a church or other religious building.

Tell Someone What Is Happening Right Away

A kid who is being hurt should tell a trusted adult right away. No matter what the abuser says, abuse is always wrong — and a kid can ask for and get help in a few different ways.

  • Tell an adult you trust. Who? You could tell someone at school, like a school counselor, school nurse, teacher, or coach. Or tell a friend's mom or dad, big brother, or big sister. You can do this in person or on the phone, or write a note, email, or a letter. This can be hard because a kid might have been frightened into staying quiet. But it's important for kids to keep telling until an adult gets help and the abuse stops.

If you don't have a trusted adult to turn to, tell someone on the phone or by text at a hotline service:

  • From the United States and Canada, call 1-800-4-A-CHILD. Anytime, day or night, people are there to help kids who are being hurt. Kids also can visit their website
  • If you're not in the United States or Canada, visit this website to find a child help line.
  • If you are in danger, call 911. Be sure to give information like your first name and address so they can get you help.

If you know someone else who you think might be being abused, you can help by telling your parent or another adult, like a teacher or a doctor.

How Do You Know Something Is Abuse?

There are a few different kinds of abuse: 

  • Hurting a child's body is called physical abuse. It can happen from hitting hard with a hand or an object like a belt, especially when the hits leave bruises or cuts. Shaking, pushing, choking, painful grabbing, and kicking also can be physical abuse. Hurting kids is never OK. Tell a trusted adult if this is happening to you.
  • Touching a kid's private body parts is called sexual abuse. Your private parts are the parts covered by your bathing suit or underwear: breasts, vagina, and bottom for girls, and penis and bottom for boys. If an adult or another kid touches a kid's private parts or tells a kid to touch theirs, it is wrong. When this happens, the person might tell the kid that this touching is a secret and not to tell anyone. But a kid does not have to keep this secret. Tell a trusted adult, or more than one, until someone helps you.
  • Hurting a kid with mean words or lots of anger is verbal or emotional abuse. This can happen if someone yells all the time, calls the kid mean names, or threatens to leave the kid or have them adopted. It's normal for parents to get angry with their kids once in a while. But if there's yelling, punishing, and threatening too much of the time, kids can start feeling really bad about themselves. It also hurts kids if they are ignored, or not given love. It's really important to tell a trusted adult this is happening.
  • Not giving kids the things they need to live is called neglect. Neglect (say: neh-GLEKT) happens when kids live in a home where the adults don't give them basic stuff that all kids need — like food, clean clothes, a way to get to school every day, and a bed to sleep in. When parents or caretakers neglect kids, the kids may not get baths, sleep under warm blankets, or get checkups or medicine when they need them.

It can be hard for a kid to tell someone that they're not getting these important things. A parent or caregiver might have troubles such as losing a job, family problems, or problems with alcohol or drugs. But no matter why it happens, a kid needs to tell someone. Then, the kid can start getting the stuff they need and the parent or caregiver can get help too.

It takes a lot of courage to talk about this kind of thing, and sometimes it takes a while to feel strong enough to talk about it. That's OK. Just know that, in the end, telling a safe person is the bravest thing a kid can do. It can feel really good when a kid takes steps to stay safe and happy and stop abuse from happening.

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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