Signs Teachers Use To Tell If A Student Lives In An Abusive Or Toxic Environment

Signs Teachers Use To Tell If A Student Lives In An Abusive Or Toxic Environment
Photo by Taylor Flowe on Unsplash

Teachers are often regarded as heroes.

Though they might not possess superpowers, or put their lives in danger on an ongoing basis, teachers have a way of influencing the lives of others in ways they can never imagine.

Of course, there are teachers who do literally save lives.

As they are the teachers who help students who are being abused at home out of toxic and dangerous situations.

Doing so without ever being explicitly told, but rather by noticing their students behavior, or reading between the lines in their work.

Redditor noorsomi was curious to learn how teachers are able to deduct that their students need help in getting out of an unsafe situation, leading them to ask:
"Teachers of reddit, what are some signs that a student is being abused or lives in a toxic environment?"

Flinching At The Slightest Moment

"It's been a few years, but I had an incident/situation that stuck with me."

"My students were working on something, probably solving density equations, and one guy came up to ask for help."

"I was standing near my whiteboard but had left my favorite Expo marker on the cart that held my projector/laptop."

"So I reached around him to grab the marker and show him on the board how to figure out the problem."

"Hey, if one kid is struggling with a problem, there's usually several more that haven't asked."

"Anyway, when I reached, he flinched."


"Arms over his head."

"Eyes tight shut."

"As if he just knew I was going to hurt him."

"I kept him after class and we talked."

"Lots of tears, not just his."

"He showed me bruises on his back."

"I notified my principal that I'd need someone to cover my next class, and called DCS, what most states call CPS."

"He was placed in a foster home and his father was arrested."

"He missed a few days and came back."

"He wasn't instantly better, which would make for a better story, but by the end of the school year, I could see he was a little more confident, a little happier."

"This was around 10 years ago. I often wonder what happened to him."- AZScienceTeacher

Not So Subtle "Ticks"

"I developed a 'tick'."

"For years, I would rip out all my eyebrows and eyelashes."

"Half the time I didn’t realize that I was doing it, because I lived with my abuser and was so stressed out and terrified ALL the time."

"When I was 17, I finally moved in with a friend to get away from them, and people started telling me they 'knew all along' that something was wrong, but no one ever said anything."

"No one ever took action, even when I tried to come forward on multiple occasions."

"I’m begging you guys- if you see something, say something."- aliveanewbeginagain

Telltale Signs

"From my experience teaching middle schoolers for the last decade."

"They smell, particularly of cigarette smoke, weed, or just general, unbearable, BO."

"They either NEVER miss a day, when it’s clear they should because they’re obviously sick, or they miss school at least 2 times a week, because their parents can’t be bothered to get them there."

"They either avoid adults like the plague, will literally run away from any authority figure, or are very clingy to adults."

"And on the more extreme end are things like wetting themselves, sign of sexual abuse, and showing a severe lack of empathy."- coreythebuckeye

Knowing And Saying Things Children Shouldn't...

"Physical abuse think of kids who get normal bumps and scrapes."

"Then think of areas that would be difficult."

"Inner arms and legs, torso, back etc."

"Also if you ask a child 'oh how did you get that bruise, it looks sore' usually they'll tell you some huge story about how they were playing some game with their siblings, and they tried to do x and then fell and did this etc."

"Abused children will try to shut down the conversation."

"Say its not sore, doesn't hurt, not that bad, was an accident."

"You won't find out how it happened."

"Are they regressing in toileting, night time or day time wetting etc."

"Do they have an aversion to a place, person or certain day."

"Perhaps on Tuesdays they go to a friends house so they only display this behavior sometimes."

"As parents do they suddenly hate a place they used to love."

"Abusers will try to get children to trust them."

"To want to be praised by them."

"Sometimes that's a 'you're so mature for your age shall we go do x together that's your favourite right' now x is tarnished."

"As a parent you're wondering why they don't want to do this with you."

"Sleeping patterns may change."

"Especially if they don't feel safe at all times when they should have a place they can relax."

"Children may become hypersexualised."

"Know more than you'd expect for their age."

"Children can become very controlling of their bodies."

"Not wanting touched, assisted with changing, to wear certain clothes."

"Please early on ensure children know boundaries and if someone touches them or asks them to watch an area usually covered by underwear to tell a trusted adult."

"Not all abuse is a child being physically touched."

"Not all abuse is done by adults, it can be older children and teenagers."

"I've worked in nurseries, after school clubs, schools, summer camps, I've been a sports coach, a babysitter, a private tutor, a teaching assistant in schools."

"I've spent days with social work and police and now work in healthcare."

"You'll spot signs everywhere."

"You may be a member of the public walking in a store and see something that worries you."

"As many people are saying in the comments you might be the trusted friend hearing about a child in potential risk."

"Know how to report concerns, who you tell and how you escalate something."

"Know how to listen to a child without prompting and how to record the conversation on paper incase your statement is used to build a case."

"Also know reporting concerns doesn't mean someone will immediately be arrested on your thoughts."

"A case has to be investigated, social work/ child protective services and police will conduct joint investigations to determine if there is enough evidence to proceed."- koig1314

Heightened Stakes

"If a student doesn't care about content and doesn't seem happy about getting a good grade, just relieved."

"I've seen students almost breakdown when earning a poor grade on an assessment knowing the pending verbal/psychological abuse coming."

"One student, living with his father and 6 hours from his mother, was sworn at and told he wouldn't see his mother for Christmas because he had a C."

"The kid cried in my classroom after school and poured his heart out about not having seen his mom for 3 months."

"Berating a child and withholding seeing his other parent for a grade?"

"High expectations are great."

"High expectations without support, however, in this case, emotional. put undue stress on students, resulting in a cycle of anxiety that can permeate their lives."- chewbaccalaureate

Teacher or not, if you notice something off with someone you know, always say something.

Sometimes, even just knowing there is someone willing to listen can provide more help than you can possibly imagine.

If you or someone you know is struggling, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.To find help outside the United States, the International Association for Suicide Prevention has resources available at

If you or someone you know experienced sexual assault, help is out there. You can reach the RAINN National Sexual Assault Hotline by calling 1-800-656-4673, use their Live Chat tool:, or visit the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.

In Canada, help is available through the Ending Violence Association of Canada website.

International resources can be found through the Rape Crisis Network Europe website.

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