Domestic violence is a pattern of behavior that is used by one person to control the other person in a relationship. While many resources focus on the effects on the relationship, it is important to understand the impact that domestic violence has on children. Children can experience domestic violence in different ways and have a variety of behaviors to express their feelings.
How Children May Respond to Domestic Violence
Children can feel anxious from observing domestic violence and feel unsafe because they are unsure of when the next violent act may occur or what triggers the violent act. Due to this uncertainty, they can have a constant sense of worry for themselves and their family.
Children may feel rage and anger at family members if they believe they are triggering abuse.
Children may isolate themselves and withdraw from normal activities because of the trauma that they have experienced.
Some children may be able to find an outlet to express their concerns and feelings about domestic violence occurring around them. These outlets can include family, friends, teachers, counselors, cultural communities, faith communities, journals, or other options. However, some children feel as if they must keep their trauma to themselves or do not feel comfortable in expressing their thoughts.
Responses of Children Suffering from Domestic Violence
Like others in abusive situations, children may appear to be fine when in public. While they may appear to be in a stable situation, it is critical to understand warning signs that a child/children may be experiencing or observing domestic violence.
- Acting out in class/school
- Withdrawal from activities
- Increased aggression with others
- Increased fear
- Stomachaches and headaches
- Difficulties with sleeping
- Wetting the bed
- Poor school attendance and performance
- Involvement in impulsive or risky behaviors
- Low self-esteem
What Can I Say to Help a Child?
“This abuse was not your fault.”
“You can come to me if you want to talk.”
“I am here to listen and support you.”
“I am sorry that you had to experience that.”
“We can make a plan to help you if this happens again.”
“You are important and I care about you.”
“I can find adults that can help keep you safe.”
“What can I do to help you through this time?”
Resources to Help Children
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network
-Hotlines and websites for immediate help
-Recommendations on seeking help
-Suggestions and ways to support children