What is child abuse?

Child abuse can be anything from neglect to physical, emotional or sexual harm. Read below to learn about each kind of abuse, and what you can do to prevent it from happening.


Occurs when your parent or caregiver has the ability to provide for you, but doesn’t. It’s neglect if you’re not getting basic needs met like:

  • Food

  • Shelter

  • Sleep

  • Education

  • Safety

  • Clothing

  • Medical care

  • Supervision

A child who’s being neglected may:

  • Always be hungry

  • Have body odour

  • Take adult responsibilities, like looking after siblings

  • Be dirty

  • Be tired all the time

  • Ask for or steal food

Physical abuse

Is a deliberate use of violence that results in (or has the potential to result in) a child being hurt. Physical abuse can look like:

  • Slapping

  • Punching

  • Beating

  • Shaking

  • Burning

  • Biting

  • Throwing

  • Cutting

  • Using objects like belts to inflict harm

A child who’s experiencing physical abuse may:

  • Wear long sleeves/long pants even in warm weather

  • Avoid physical contact with others

  • Be aggressive

Emotional abuse

Is a little trickier to identify because it happens when you’re sense of self-worth is being destroyed. You may be experiencing emotional abuse if you’re feeling bad about yourself because of:

  • Unreasonable demands or expectations

  • Constant criticizing

  • Hurtful teasing or insulting

  • Rejecting or ignoring

A child who experiences emotional abuse may:

  • Always want affection

  • Fail to gain weight (especially in infants)

  • Have temper tantrums

  • Be either very disobedient or very compliant

  • Bully others

  • Have compulsive habits (biting, rocking, head-banging)

  • Have headaches or stomach aches with no medical cause

Sexual abuse

Often goes unreported because children experiencing it may be confused or embarrassed. There’s nothing to be ashamed about, but please find the courage to speak to a trusted adult if someone is:

  • Exposing your private areas

  • Watching you undress

  • Touching you sexually

  • Sending you inappropriate texts

  • Making you watch pornographic pictures or videos

  • Forcing you to do sexual acts

A child who experiences sexual abuse may:

  • Be afraid of the dark

  • Wet the bed

  • Have frequent sore throats or urinary infections

  • Suck their thumb

In general, a child may be experiencing some kind of abuse if they:

  • Are always sad

  • Have recurring nightmare or disturbed sleep patterns

  • Re-enact abuse using dolls, drawings or friends

  • Are struggling to keep up with schoolwork

  • Are being aggressive or withdrawing from others

  • Have low self-esteem

If you, or someone you know, show signs of experiencing child abuse, please try one of the following:

  • Contactl your local Children’s Aid Society. Someone will be available to take your call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and you can report anonymously.

  • Reach out to a trusted adult, like a teacher, or guidance counselor, or doctor.

  • Call the Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 to speak to a counselor.

Remember, in 2018, the age of protection was raised to include youth up to 18-years-old.