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What Is Abuse?

Abuse means treating kids in a way that hurts or harms them. Abuse (say: ah-BYOOS) is never OK. And abuse is never a kid’s fault.

What Are the 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 a kid with mean words or threats is called emotional abuse. This can happen if someone yells all the time, acts cruel, makes scary threats, or calls the kid mean names. It's normal for parents to get angry with their kids once in a while. But cruelty and threats are harmful to kids.
  • Touching a kid’s private body parts in a sexual way 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.

    It is sexual abuse if an adult or older kid touches a kid's private parts, or to tells a kid to touch or look at theirs. It’s sexual abuse if an adult tries to have a kid look at or pose for sex pictures or do sex acts. If someone does this, or tries to do it, they might tell the kid that this is a secret and not to tell anyone. But a kid should not keep this secret.

Tell an adult if any of these kinds of abuse happen to you or to someone you know.

Who Can I Tell and What Do I Say?

You could tell a parent or caregiver. If you can’t tell a parent, tell someone at school, like a school counselor, school nurse, or teacher. You could tell a friend's mom or dad.

You can tell someone in person or on the phone. You can write a note, email, or letter. You can say, "I need to talk." Then, when they’re listening, say what is happening and say you need help. If the first person you tell doesn’t help, tell someone else. Keep telling until someone helps you.

If you don’t have an adult you can turn to, you can call or text 1-800-422-4453 to talk to someone at the Childhelp Hotline. Or you can visit the Childhelp Hotline website. People are there to help kids, for free, 24 hours a day. Another website with good information for kids is Childline.

What if I'm Scared to Talk About It?

Abuse can be hard to talk about. A kid might have been scared into staying quiet. Or told to keep the abuse a secret. But this is not a secret a kid should keep. It can take courage to speak up. But it’s the right thing to do. And you can do it.

How Do Adults Help Kids Who Go Through Abuse?

There are adults to help kids who go through abuse. They help in two main ways:

  • They make sure kids are safe. They do things to get the abuse to stop. They can make sure other people in the kid’s family are safe from abuse too.
  • They help kids with emotions. Going though abuse is deeply stressful for kids. It can make kids feel scared, sad, tired, or unsafe. It can make them feel angry, or bad about themselves. With the right help, kids can start to feel better. Therapy and caring support help the emotional hurt from abuse start to heal.
Medically reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness, PhD
Date reviewed: August 2023