Child abuse is a legal term used to describe the mistreatment of children by parents or other caregivers. The term is not exclusive to physical mistreatment or injury; it includes emotional, sexual, and physical harm against children. Different forms of abuse can be committed either through commission or omission. Parents who beat their children and parents who neglect to feed their children properly can both be considered child abusers. Child abuse is taken very seriously, as it can have severe physical and emotional consequences that can extend through one's childhood and can affect one's entire adult life in unpleasant ways.
There are four main categories that are used to divide and classify different types of child abuse. Neglect occurs when a caregiver fails to provide a child with essentials that the child cannot provide for himself, such as food and clothing. Physical abuse refers to instances in which physical contact is used in order to cause harm, intimidation, or other forms of injury. Psychological abuse, also referred to as emotional abuse or mental abuse, involves attacks against an individual’s emotional or psychological health, such as insults or repeated assertions of worthlessness. Child sexual abuse occurs when a caregiver or relative in a higher position of power, such as a parent or older sibling, uses a younger child for sexual pleasure.
Many different factors within a family can contribute to an environment in which child abuse is likely to occur. Caregivers who have problems with substance abuse, generally in the form of drugs or alcohol, are far more likely to abuse their children than those without substance abuse problems. Families with financial difficulties are also far more likely to have problems with child abuse than families without such difficulties. The reasons for these correlations are not completely understood, but the overall stability and stress levels in the family seem to be significant factors.
Victims of child abuse have many options to help them to move on with their lives and to cope with their often-traumatic experiences. Cognitive behavioral therapy, for example, is one treatment method that many people find to be highly effective. It uses goal-oriented therapeutic methods to deal with misguided or harmful emotions or behaviors that may result from child abuse. For younger victims of child abuse, therapy methods such as play therapy and art therapy can be used to help a child cope in a more comfortable and familiar environment. Psychologists can learn a great deal about a child patient by analyzing his artwork and play habits.