How are children affected by domestic violence?
All children are affected by the violence in
their homes. Regardless of whether or not our children have been
physically abused, watching their mother being battered is a frightening
experience. Children from violent homes can exhibit a variety of
behaviors. Some may "act out" and may be viewed as delinquent. Others work
very hard to excel at every endeavor in attempt to keep the family peace.
Living with violence creates intense stress for a child. Below is a list
of some behaviors that are frequently associated with children from
- Physical Complaints - headaches, stomach aches, bed wetting
- Eating Problems - Increased or Decreased appetite
- Trouble Sleeping - being tired all the time
- Hair Pulling - nail biting
- School Phobias - Impaired Concentration
- Fear of Men- and/or their voices
- Fear of Being Touched - flinching when someone reaches toward
- Disruptive Behavior - stealing, aggression
- Passivity - clinging, anxiety
- Withdrawal - isolation, loneliness
- Role Reversal- child assumes parental roles,
- Suicidal Ideation - and/or suicide attempts
Effects of Domestic Violence on
imitate behaviors they witness. Generational transfer of violent
behavior and emotional dependency on others is common, thus, children
violence is an acceptable behavior and an integral part of
relationships. Children may become abusive adults or accept
control as a normal part of intimate relations.
Children raised in an abusive
environment may be abused as
Targets of Violence
Children are often
abused in order for the abuser to hurt,
punish, or gain revenge upon
his/her spouse. The abuser may feel "ganged up" on
by family members
who act or speak out against his violence. OR, the child gets
in the crossfire and is unintentionally injured as a result of parental
conflict. This is still considered child endangerment. The child is
by the victim as she releases her stress on the child or
attempts to keep the
child "in line" so not to "irritate" the
A victim living under the stress
of the abuser is seldom able to
fully attend to the needs of the
children. Infants may not become attached to
their primary caretaker
and lack trust; young children's growth may be stunted due to lack of
stimulation; and may have sleeping and eating disorders. Infants and
children who are neglected by their caregivers are prone to illness and
have tremendous difficulty in areas of development and overall well being.
Low self esteem and low
confidence often result when children are unable to handle life
situations. Phobias, depression, stress disorders, stuttering, insomnia,
impaired concentration difficulty in school, psychosomatic illnesses, etc.
are a result of the chaotic/abusive home environment and often go
unattended because the parent(s) is overwhelmed by their own need.
Arguments about child rearing and/or a
child's behavior often precipitate violent episodes between parents. The
child may see himself as responsible for the violence and may compensate
through suicidal thoughts, overly pleasing behavior or extreme acting out
behavior. The children literally blame themselves for the violence in
their home. They feel "it is all my fault and if I weren't here, none of
this would be happening".
Children raised in violent home settings usually
have poor definitions of self and values; inconsistent responses from the
parents to the child's behavior can undermine a child's self-esteem even
more. Psychological and emotional abuse also defeats self-esteem and
fosters feelings of confusion, helplessness and powerlessness.
Children assume adult
responsibilities that can endanger the child physically as well as delay
the child's physical and emotional development. The children go from child
to adult roles without passing through adolescent stages, for example, by
caring for the victim and/or younger children or caring for themselves.
Children raised in violent atmospheres often care for younger siblings in
the absence of the primary caretaker(s), or take over the "adult roles"
such as cooking meals or cleaning the house.
Children are in danger of being
involved in the assault emotionally and physically. Additional emotional
danger is possible because the "referee" is expected to be impartial while
the child mat be experiencing divided loyalties. If a child assumes the
role of the "referee", he/she may withdraw from both parents.
The child often attempts to
protect and defend all family members and is being used by both parents
against one another. Children feel love for both parents and are confused
as to why two people he loves are hurting. Feelings of shame and guilt
usually result; therefore the child may isolate himself from his peers and
other family members. Children experiencing these feelings are often
locked into silence by the abuse.
Children with erratic parents never know whether they'll
be emotionally and/or physically neglected or whether they will receive an
outpouring of affection as the abuser attempts to reconcile abusive
behavior. Children don't know who to trust or when to trust when their
environment is chaotic.
child lives in a chaotic environment, feelings of guilt, fear,
helplessness, bottled rage, and embarrassment usually result.
Fear of Abandonment
Often during or after an
attack, children are sent to stay with friends, family, or neighbors.
Siblings may be separated or authorities may intervene. Parents are
fearful that the Division of Family Services may come to take their
children into protective custody, or that the abusive spouse may kidnap
the children to use as "leverage" or as "bargaining chips" against the
other spouse. All of these situations can result in separation anxiety for
Children may run away to
seek independence and freedom from violence, rage, and arguments at home.
Children learn that running from their problems is an appropriate means of
dealing with crisis instead of communicating with others to get problems
Poor School Performance
Problems at home
(specifically violence) may cause loss of attentiveness, lack of adequate
rest, and poor nutritional habits in children. Low self-esteem and
inability to complete assignments are roots of poor school performance.
Children raised in homes where violence of any kind is a frequent
occurrence often have tremendous difficulty academically. Some children
may compensate for the violent environment by over achieving or by putting
all their concentration into one activity such as academics or sports.
Children with inappropriate or
inadequate coping mechanisms, along with low self-esteem will often "give
in' to peer pressure and become involved with drug/alcohol use and abuse.
Some children model their parent's behavior and cope with life stress
through smoking and drug/alcohol use and abuse.
Children who experience violence in their
homes may have thoughts of suicide as a means of "escaping".
Self-mutilation and obsession with death are common
Effects of Domestic violence on Children
- Summary by Age Group:
Infants - Characterized
by poor health, poor sleeping habits, excessive crying and screaming,
disruptive attachment to the caregiver(s), abnormal feeding routine and
accidental injury. Infancy is a critical developmental period. Eating
and/or sleeping disorders are often manifested at this early age and
usually become more evident in later years of development. Stress
interferes with brain development. Neural connections missed at this age
are never completely replaced.
Characterized by overall or specific area(s) of delayed development, signs
of terror, yelling, irritable behavior, hiding, shaking, stuttering,
clinging to the caretaker, somatic complaints, and regression to earlier
stages of functioning. Children may become protective of their mother and
other family members.
Latency Age - Characterized by
Children looking to parents as role models and copying the parent's
behavior as acceptable and normal. Children may fight with others,
experience school problems, and exhibit feelings of shame, guilt, and
embarrassment. Child may have developmental delays, low self-esteem, and
little opportunity for growth outside the home. Children raised in violent
homes may have angry feelings toward family members, exhibit signs of
fear, anxiety, denial, distracted, and inattentive behavior. Most often,
children will blame others for the problems at home.
Adolescents/Teens - Characterized by guarded and secretive
behavior about family members and embarrassment about the home situation.
Teenagers don't invite friends over and they spend much of their free time
away from home. Denial and aggression are the predominant forms of problem
solving. Teens often blame others instead of attempting to solve problems,
they may encounter violence in their dating relationships, and they may
run away as a means coping. Some teens become involved in criminal
activity, some may become sexually active, or exhibit anxiety, such as
nail biting or hair pulling and other self-mutilating/self destructive
activities. Teens may assume the parent/caretaker role and experience
confused feelings toward their parents. Some teens may over/under achieve
in school and other activities and may exhibit signs of depression, eating
disorders, sleeping disorders, and poor communications skills. Teens
raised in violent homes often distrust those around them, usually have a
complex system(s) of manipulation and may abuse those who abuse them
within the family.
Source: AWAIC - http://www.awaic.org/education.html
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