Effects of domestic violence on children

Every year, more than three million children see violence at home. Children react to the experience differently and their reactions can vary with their gender and age. Children who witness domestic violence or are victims themselves are more prone to emotional and behavioral problems than children who do not.  The trauma can continue well into their adult lives.

Emotional effects of domestic violence

Low self-esteem: fear; insecurity with the home environment; delayed emotional development from lack of emotional nurturing and security

Depression: feelings of sadness, loss, anger, or frustration interfere with everyday life; a child is unable to imagine the problem can be solved in a positive way

Guilt: feelings of responsibility for violence; guilt for not being able to prevent or stop the violence; guilt for failure to intervene during the violence to protect the parent

Distant and preoccupied: concern with what may be happening at home; fear for safety of parent and self; maintains distance from others so no one discovers violence in the home; shame

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Behavioral effects of domestic violence

Aggression toward others: the child models aggressive and violent behaviors; uses violence to resolve conflicts; uses violence to distance others from them because if they are distant, no one will discover the problems at home

Poor school adjustment: does not fully engage in learning or socialization

Truancy: stays home believing that their presence will prevent the violence and fighting

Role reversal: older children will take on responsibility of the younger children and household; become caretakers for the parent and “parent” the abused parent; abused parent may begin to confide in oldest child as they would an adult; the child has little opportunity to become involved in childhood activities and is forced to early maturity because of violence and family dysfunction

Running away: desire to escape an unbearable home situation.

Modeling behaviors: adopts the learned roles of victim or aggressor; often becomes involved in violent relationships in adulthood, either as abuser (modeling aggressor role) or as an abused person (modeling victim role)

Alcohol and drug abuse experimentation: motivated by a desire to find a psychological escape from violent home; attempt to find support with others involved in like activities; modeling parental behaviors

Physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse: children may attempt to intervene in violent incidents and become physically injured; the are emotionally damaged when they witness violence; abused parent may become so preoccupied with fear and abusive situation that he/she cannot offer the nurturing needed by the child; child may be victim of sexual abuse

Early marriage: an escape out of violent home environment; may be subconscious or conscious desire to create home environment, which they had been denied

Delinquency: with lack of support in home environment, the child seeks support through acceptance in powerful, “strong,” frequently delinquent group; group acceptance is easy as long as the individual performs according to group standards

Violence towards parents and the community as adolescents and adults: impacted by limited problem-solving skills and pro-violence attitudes

1American Psychological Association, Violence and the Family: Report of the APA Presidential Task Force on Violence  and the Family,1996.

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Child’s perspective

Through the Eyes of a Child 
Did I do something wrong to make you lose control?
Anger so strong or do you even know? That when you come home I want to run and hide
The pain is so deep that I keep it inside.
I’m not the same because of you – always afraid of what you’ll do.

If only you could see yourself through my eyes.
You’d know why
(I’m dying inside)
Sometimes I need a firm, but gently hand-someone who cares and understands
That I am still learning.
But I just can’t take this abuse, from you.
There is no excuse I’m not the same because of you.

If only you could see yourself through my eyes
You’d know why
(I’m dying inside)
This is no way to live
If you try to change I’ll try to forgive.

Changing How Adults Nurture Children’s Egos