Domestic violence has many indirect effects on children. When there is domestic violence in a household the dynamics between parents/partners change. Not only does this affect the adults’ relationship, but it also affects their relationship with their children. In a household where the father is abusive towards the mother their parenting style tends to shift towards being more authoritative, neglectful, verbally abusive, and can even expose the children to the risk of emotional and physical abuse. Mothers who are being abused may assume a more passive parenting role. They may become less emotionally available to their children in order to protect them and herself. In some cases mothers who are abused turn to a variety of coping mechanisms such as substance abuse. In order to keep the peace in the household mothers often try to protect their children from the abuse by defending the abuser or down playing the events. This creates emotional distance between the mother and children because the children don’t feel they can bring their feelings and fears to their mother’s attention.
Aside from parenting changes, the exposure to domestic violence has immediate and long-term effects on children. The effects are numerous and every child reacts differently to domestic violence. Typically they can have two extremes. On one hand the child may exhibit an increase in aggressive behavior, rebellious behavior, mood swings, drug or alcohol abuse, poor school performance, and/or anger management problems. On the other hand they may internalize their trauma. This may result in anxiety, low self-esteem, shame/guilt, withdrawal, dependency, isolation from friends, trust issues, and nightmares. These are just a few ways children react to domestic violence and they may show signs that fit both of these scenarios. Some of the less recognized effects of domestic violence are stress manifesting itself into physical symptoms such as frequent headaches and stomach aches, tiredness, frequent illness, regression in mental development, self abuse, and poor personal hygiene. Other symptoms may mimic mental disorders such as hyperactivity disorder, ADD, OCD, and oppositional defiant disorders. By addressing their exposure to domestic violence with counseling and healing, these symptoms may go away.
In order to help these children through the healing process, seeing the world the way they do and listening to how they think is crucial. When we understand the reasoning of children we can better discuss the situation in a way that they would understand. For example, a child may think that if the police are called to the house, everyone will go to jail.
What every child needs :
- Reminders that the abuse is not their fault.
- The abuser is responsible for their own actions
- A safe environment to express their feelings
- People to listen to them and respect their feelings.
- Validate their feelings
- Individual, sibling, and parent/child sessions
- Dealing with possible PTSD
- Helping the child create a safety plan (how to call 911, what to do when they feel unsafe, and how to call close relatives)
Facts and Statistics
- One third of children report detailed recollections of instances of domestic violence that they were reported by the parents to not have witnessed.
- It was previously stated that 3.3 million children are exposed to domestic violence, but newer studies show that 10 million teenagers are exposed to violence between their parents each year.
- Did you know that It is a Class D Felony in Indiana to commit an act of domestic violence in the presence of a child under the age of 16?
During a child’s life their minds and character are being shaped into the adult they will become. When a child’s life is surround by domestic violence the cycle can keep going, but if their emotional and mental health are addressed and cared for we can stop the cycle of domestic violence. Creating awareness of the effects domestic violence has on children and teens can create a strong and healthy generation focused on ending domestic violence in the world we live in.
If you or someone you know is in need of counseling, please call Beacon of Hope. We are here to help.
Beacon of Hope Crisis Center
Crisis Line: 317-731-6140
CHILDREN’S WITNESSING OF ADULT DOMESTIC VIOLENCE www.ncdsv.org/images/childrenwitnessingadultdv.pdf
When Dad Hurts Mom: Helping Your Children Heal the Wounds of Witnessing Abuse
Author: Lundy Bancroft
Published: March 1, 2005
Children and Domestic Violence abetterwaymuncie.org/signs-of-domestic-violence/children-and-domestic-violence/