Children react to their environment in different ways, and reactions can vary depending on the child’s gender and age. Children exposed to family violence are more likely to develop social, emotional, psychological and or behavioral problems than those who are not. Recent research indicates that children who witness domestic violence show more anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, anger and temperament problems than children who do not witness violence in the home. The trauma they experience can show up in emotional, behavioral, social and physical disturbances that affect their development and can continue into adulthood.
Some facts about children and domestic violence include:
- The U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse suggests that domestic violence may be the single major precursor to child abuse and neglect fatalities in this country.
- Studies suggest that more than 3 million children in the U.S. witness domestic violence annually.
- In a national survey of more than 6,000 American families, 50 percent of the men who frequently assaulted their wives also frequently abused their children.
- Children can be adversely affected by witnessing domestic violence. Although many parents believe that they can hide domestic violence from their children, children living in these homes report differently. Research suggests that between 80 and 90 percent of these children are aware of the violence. Even if they do not see a beating, they hear the screams and see the bruises, broken bones, and abrasions sustained by their mothers.
- Infants exposed to violence may not develop the attachments to their caretakers that are critical to their development; in extreme cases they may suffer from “failure to thrive.”
- Preschool children in violent homes may regress developmentally and suffer sleep disturbances, including nightmares.
- School-age children who witness violence may exhibit a range of problem behaviors including depression, anxiety, and violence towards peers.
- Adolescents who have grown up in violent homes are at risk for recreating the abusive relationships they have seen.
- Men who as children witnessed their parents’ domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own wives than sons of nonviolent parents.
Potential effects of domestic violence on children:
- Grief for family and personal losses
- Shame, guilt, and self-blame
- Confusion about conflicting feelings toward parents
- Fear of abandonment, or expressing emotions, the unknown or personal injury
- Depression and feelings of helplessness and powerlessness.
- Acting out or withdrawing
- Aggressive or passive
- Refusing to go to school
- Care taking; acting as a parent substitute
- Lying to avoid confrontation
- Rigid defenses
- Excessive attention seeking
- Bedwetting and nightmares
- Out of control behavior
- Reduced intellectual competency
- Manipulation, dependency, mood swings
- Isolation from friends and relatives
- Stormy relationships
- Difficulty in trusting, especially adults
- Poor anger management and problem solving skills
- Excessive social involvement to avoid home
- Passivity with peers or bullying
- Engaged in exploitative relationships as perpetrator or victim
- Somatic complaints, headaches and stomachaches
- Nervous, anxious, short attention span
- Tired and lethargic
- Frequently ill
- Poor personal hygiene
- Regression in development
- High-risk play
- Self abuse