Affected Children

Unfortunately, in many Domestic Violence situations, children are present or somehow involved. “Research shows that 80 to 90 percent of children living in homes where there is domestic violence are aware of the violence (Pagelow, “Effects of Domestic Violence on Children,” Mediation Quarterly, 1990).” The emotional, physical, and behavioral impact on a child’s life can be traumatic and devastating. Sometimes the effects can last well into adulthood.  “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 effect their development and can continue into adulthood (ACADV. Effects of DV on Children).”

The following is from the National Center for children Exposed to Violence(www.nccev.org):

From a Child’s Perspective

Children communicate their distress in many different ways. Often the way in which children express their distress is closely linked to their stage of developmental. General guidelines when considering the traumatic reactions of children at different developmental stages include the following:

Infants

Infants depend on adults to look after them. They sense the emotions of their caregiver and respond accordingly. If the adult is calm and responsive and is able to maintain their daily routine, the child will feel secure and symptoms will be minimized. If the adult is anxious and overwhelmed, the infant will feel unprotected and may display a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Fussing
  • Sleep problems
  • Disruptions in eating
  • Withdrawal
  • Lethargy and unresponsiveness

Toddlers

At this age children begin to interact with the broader physical and social environment. As with infants, toddlers depend on adults to look after them and will respond to traumatic situations as well or as poorly as their adult caretakers. Common reactions in toddlers include:

  • Sleep problems
  • Disruptions in eating
  • Increased tantrums
  • Toileting problems (e.g. wetting him/herself)
  • Increased clinging to caretaker
  • Withdrawal

Preschool Children

Children at this age may have more social interactions outside of the family. Their language, play, social, and physical skills are more advanced. With these skills, they are more capable of expressing their thoughts and feelings, particularly following a traumatic event. Common responses include:

  • Sleep problems
  • Disruptions in eating
  • Increased tantrums
  • Bed-wetting
  • Irritability and frustration
  • Defiance
  • Difficulty separating from caretakers
  • Preoccupation with traumatic events

School-Age Children

Children at this age are more independent, are better able to talk about their thoughts and feelings, and are engaged in friendships and participation in group activities. They also possess better skills to cope with challenges or difficulties. When confronted with a traumatic event, school-age children may exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Sleep problems
  • Disruptions in eating
  • Difficulty separating from caretakers
  • Preoccupation with details of traumatic event
  • Anxiety and aggression
  • School difficulties
  • Problems with attention and hyperactivity

Adolescents

Adolescence is a time during which youth may feel out of control due to the physical changes that are occurring to their bodies. They experience struggles to become independent from their families and rely more heavily on relationships with peers and teachers. They may show a tendency to deny or exaggerate what happens around them and to feel that they are invincible. When exposed to a traumatic event, adolescents may show the following symptoms:

  • Sleep problems
  • Preoccupation with details of traumatic event
  • Hopelessness
  • Anxiety and aggression
  • School difficulties
  • Unrealistic sense of power
  • Difficulties with relationships

Child Safety Plan

Community Welcome House offers safety plans for adults as well as children within domestic violence situations. The following are some basic steps to keep your children safe.

  1. Teach your children how to call 911 in the event of an emergency.
  2. Have your children run for help to a safe place during a violent incident. Don’t allow them to get in the middle of an argument where they can be hurt. (“Older children are frequently assaulted when they intervene to defend or protect their mothers.” [Hilberman and Munson, “Sixty Battered Women,” Victimology: An International Journal, 1977-78])
  3. Make and “ID” kit of your child. They are available at most police stations. Peace Place also offers them free of charge.
  4. Tell the children “it’s not their fault” that violence occurs in their home.
  5. Tell the children to tell another trusted adult like a teach if they need to talk. Don’t take this as a betrayal.

Resources

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence Fact Sheet

http://www.ncadv.org/files/DomesticViolenceFactSheet%28National%29.pdf

Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence

http://www.acadv.org/children.html

National Center for Children Exposed to Violence

http://www.nccev.org/

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