Types of Child Abuse in A Child Called ‘It’

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "A Child Called 'It'" by Dave Pelzer. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What are the different types of child abuse in A Child Called “It”? How do each of the types of abuse affect David?

In A Child Called “It” David Pelzer’s mother abuses him in a number of horrifying ways. The different types of child abuse seen in the book include weaponizing food, violent punishments, and psychological abuse.

Read more about the different types of child abuse in A Child Called “It”.

The Types of Child Abuse

David suffers multiple types of abuse at the hands of his mother.

Mother Starves David

One of the main types of child abuse involved food, or lack thereof. David often goes days without eating, but in one instance he far surpasses his typical three days: For 10 days, David survives only on water. 

In one of her “games,” Mother puts a plate of cold food scraps in front of David on the sixth day and tells him he has two minutes to eat. But as soon as he picks up the fork, she grabs the plate away from him. This psychological aspect was part of the types of child abuse Mother inflicted.

Mother repeats this the next three nights, until finally David is able to tilt the plate and shove the food into his mouth fast enough to beat Mother’s attempt to take it away. David feels triumphant: Again, he’s managed to beat Mother and survive another day. 

In another instance, David’s worn clothes and emaciated body elicit a neighbor woman’s pity and she gives him a brown bag lunch. David plans to hide the food before returning to Mother’s house (he never refers to it as his house) but she drives by and catches him with it. Mother assumes David has stolen the food and beats him. 

The Gas Chamber and Other Physical Types of Abuse

Mother’s cruel games were all types of child abuse. In one, she puts a bucket of ammonia and Clorox in the bathroom with David as he’s cleaning. Mother forbids David from opening the door, and the fumes from the chemical mixture fill the room and burn his throat and eyes. 

David realizes he has to be strategic in order to endure this treatment, so he takes a few protective measures: 

  • He uses his foot to push the bucket as far from him as he can.
  • He wets a rag in the toilet—for fear of Mother hearing the faucet—and uses it to cover his face.
  • He puts his mouth up to the heating vent in the floor to suck in any clean air he can.

After about half an hour in the “gas chamber,” Mother opens the door. David still ends up coughing up blood, but he’s found a way to survive another torturous game, which Mother repeats about once a week. 

Ice Baths

The day Mother catches David with the bagged lunch, she introduces a new form of abuse. This is another one of the types of abuse with a terrible and torturing punishment.

Mother brings David into the bathroom, and he assumes he’s walking into another gas chamber session. But then Mother fills the bathtub with cold water, takes off David’s clothes, and tells him to lie in the bath. 

Mother grabs David’s neck and forces his head under water. When she finally lets go, she tells him he must keep his head under the water. David lowers his head until just his nostrils are above the water. 

Mother leaves, and David remains like that for hours. He’s freezing, but he’s terrified to move a muscle in case Mother comes in and catches him. A few times his brothers walk in to go to the bathroom, and they give David no pity and hardly any acknowledgement. When Mother repeats this punishment on later occasions, David’s brothers sometimes bring their friends in to gawk at David. 

When Mother finally returns, she tells David to get dressed, but she doesn’t allow him to use a towel to dry off. Then she orders him to sit outside in the shade in his typical P.O.W. position—sitting on his hands, with his head back—while the family eats dinner in the house. Father is even home, and it doesn’t make a difference. 

Lawn-Mowing Venture

The summer before David enters fourth grade, Mother sends him around the neighborhood to offer lawn mowing services for a fee, which she’ll pocket. Mother sets an unrealistically high quota, and when David can’t reach it, she beats him. 

Once, in desperation to meet the quota, David steals money from a young neighbor girl. But Mother quickly finds out, returns the money, and beats David. This psychological abuse from unrealistic expectations combined with physical punishment was one of the types of child abuse David suffered.

Types of Child Abuse in A Child Called ‘It’

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Dave Pelzer's "A Child Called 'It'" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full A Child Called 'It' summary :

  • How David Pelzer survived horrific abuse at the hands of his mother
  • How victims and survivors of abuse can find support and overcome their painful past
  • Why child abuse may go unnoticed by other adults

Rina Shah

An avid reader for as long as she can remember, Rina’s love for books began with The Boxcar Children. Her penchant for always having a book nearby has never faded, though her reading tastes have since evolved. Rina reads around 100 books every year, with a fairly even split between fiction and non-fiction. Her favorite genres are memoirs, public health, and locked room mysteries. As an attorney, Rina can’t help analyzing and deconstructing arguments in any book she reads.

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