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Child abuse: How to tell if something is wrong and what you can do


One of the hardest things for any parent to discover is that their child may have been sexually harmed or abused in any way especially by someone that is supposed to care for or teach the said child.

In this situation, denial, shock and anger are normal reactions and if it is not responded to quickly and sensitively, the effect on the child and the whole family can be devastating and life changing.

For this reason it is vital to be extra vigilant and know who to contact as soon as you suspect that something is wrong. The positive message in all this is that early help for the child or young person and their family can make a huge difference. Evidence suggests that the earlier children can get help, the more chance there is of preventing future damage. It is important to be alert to the early warning signs that something is going wrong.

If your child spends any amount of time away from you – whether it’s with a babysitter, with a trusted family friend or relative, or at daycare or school, it’s natural to be concerned about their safety. And like any parent, you’ve probably wondered whether you’d be able to tell if your child was being assaulted in any way.

Some parents mistakenly overlook signs of abuse because they don’t want to face what is happening. Most abusers are family members, which makes the situation even harder to accept. On the other hand, even when you do keep an eye out for the physical symptoms and behavioural changes that may point to abuse, it can be tricky to figure out exactly what’s going on.

To put it succinctly, young children are innocent and hardly lie. In most cases, they have no idea what is happening and if they haven’t been taught to refuse all touch or gifts aside from their parents, they might think the adult is just being nice to them. If your child is old enough to communicate well, regularly ask them questions such as, “Did anything happen to you today that you didn’t like?” or “Have you ever been frightened at school or did anyone touch you?” If he’s in the habit of telling you what makes him uncomfortable, he’ll be more likely to tell you when anything is seriously amiss.

When it comes to abuse and neglect, most kids tell the truth. But in most cases, they are reluctant. They don’t want to get the person in trouble. They feel guilty. They may feel it happened because they were bad. If your child can’t tell you what’s going on (because he’s too young or not very communicative), pinpointing abuse can be even more difficult. What you can do is keep a close eye on him for signs that all is not well.

Some parents discover signs of abuse, such as internal bleeding and injuries, only when they take their child to the doctor because the child won’t stop crying or is being excessively fussy. Emotional abuse (such as threats or constant criticism) is even harder to detect. Sexual abuse is on the increase in Nigeria and now more than ever before, parents have to be super attentive.

Signs To Watch For
A child who has been physically abused may cry and put up a fight when it is time to go to daycare or a sitter’s or appear frightened around the caregiver or the abusive adult, show other sudden changes in behaviour or performance at daycare or school or come home with unexplained bruises. If your child is still a baby, learn the signs of Shaken Baby Syndrome (SBS). SBS usually happens when babies are shaken in anger.

A child who has been emotionally abused may display behavioural problems or changes such as shunning a parent’s affections or becoming excessively clingy, become less talkative or stop communicating almost completely, or display signs of a speech disorder, act inappropriately adult or infantile, complain of stomachaches or headaches or have trouble sleeping.

A child who has been sexually abused may have pain, itching, bleeding, or bruises in or around the genital area, have difficulty walking or sitting, possibly because of genital or anal pain, demonstrate sexual knowledge, curiosity, or behaviour beyond his age or be secretive or want to be alone much of the time. If you notice your child doesn’t want to stay with an uncle or aunt, do not force them. Do not put kids on uncle’s laps and as much as possible, always be in the room when your child is with an “uncle” or “aunty.”

If you notice any of these signs, please take the child to a hospital/child counsellor and seek proper help and guidance. If there were sexual abuse involved, you would be guided on what to do.

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