Effects of Domestic Violence on Children
March 30, 2011
The tragic reality is that any time a mother is abused by her partner; the children are also affected in both overt and subtle ways. What hurts the mother hurts the children. Children do not have to be physically or verbally abused to be injured by domestic violence. Hearing or seeing the abuse of one parent by the other takes a huge toll on the children. Even if they don’t see the beating, they see the bruises, broken bones, and abrasions. In homes where domestic violence occurs, fear, instability, and confusion replace the love, comfort, and nurturing the children need. These children live in constant fear of physical harm from the person who is supposed to care for and protect them.
While many children experience difficulties resulting from their exposure to violence, many children appear to cope with the experiences and show fewer problems than in comparison to other children. This is likely because the level of violence in families and children’s exposure to it can vary greatly. Further research is needed in order to draw blanket conclusions about the effects of domestic violence on children.
Children who witness domestic violence display various emotional, physical, and behavioral disturbances.
- Witnessing parental abuse produces feelings of anger, fear, guilt, shame, confusion, and helplessness. When the community fails to offer protection and support, children also feel undervalued and worthless.
- Children may express these emotions as withdrawal, low self-esteem, nightmares, regressive behavior, or aggression against peers, family members, and property.
- Child witnesses to domestic violence often suffer physical problems, such as bed-wetting, insomnia, colds and diarrhea.
- Children often suffer developmental delays in verbal, cognitive, and motor abilities when they live in homes with domestic violence. Learning disabilities are common.
Domestic violence disrupts children’s lives.
- Children’s living arrangements are often disrupted when a parent is fleeing the abuser. Moving to unfamiliar surroundings can add to the stress.
- Children and their mother may suffer financially when they flee the abusive parent.
- School performance may suffer if the child is distracted or tries to remain at home to protect the mother.
- Many children in families where domestic violence has occurred appear to be “parentified” or “spousified.” They are forced to grow up faster than peers, often taking on the responsibility of cooking, cleaning, and caring for younger children while the mother attempts to deal with the trauma.
- Children may also be isolated. Typical activities such as having friends over to their house may not be possible due to the chaotic atmosphere. However, school performance is not always obviously affected. Children may respond by being overachievers.