The kindergartner who witnessed her father regularly beat her mother grew up to be a victim of domestic violence in her own marriage. The 13-year-old boy who saw his dad repeatedly verbally abuse his mother exhibits acting out and aggressive behavior at school. He may grow up to treat his future spouse the same way, thinking that this behavior is appropriate within a loving marriage. For a child who witnesses domestic violence in their home, the list of repercussions is long.
When comparing the temperaments and behaviors of children who have been exposed to domestic violence versus those who have not, a large body of research has provided sobering findings. The difficulties present in the children who had witnessed domestic violence fall into three categories:
Children exposed to domestic violence have varying responses to it. Not all children will experience such negative effects, depending on various factors that will dictate the outcome. While some grow up to demonstrate significant maladaptive adjustment, others exhibit resiliency. If certain protective factors are present, such as intelligence, high self-esteem, an outgoing temperament, strong sibling and peer relationships and a supportive relationship with a non-abusive parent, the consequences can be somewhat mitigated.
Other factors that influence the impact of domestic violence on children:
Children who have witnessed domestic violence may demonstrate immediate effects from the violent situation, on-going effects throughout childhood and adolescence, as well as long-term effects in adult years. These effects can be direct, after witnessing abuse, with resulting anxiety, sleep disturbances, difficulty concentrating, worry and aggression. Indirect effects are the result of parenting that is compromised due to the abuse. Almost half of the children who witness a domestic violence incident will attempt to intervene by yelling at the abuser to stop, trying to get away, or calling for help.
The devastating and long-lasting impact of a child witnessing domestic violence is significant. Many studies have shown that child witnesses of violence experience more health complaints, more eating, sleeping, pain problems, as well as more incidences of self-harm than a child who has not. Witnessing domestic violence in the preschool years was related to behavior problems during the teen years. If the violence was witnessed in the adolescent’s teen years, the resulting problems were also exhibited during the teen years. Frequent exposure to domestic violence was a significant risk factor for depression in young adulthood. It is also being found that early life stressors, such as domestic violence, can result in enduring brain dysfunction that can affect health and quality of life throughout life.
A woman with children who finds herself in a relationship or marriage where domestic violence is occurring must first seek safety for herself and her children. Once those provisions and accommodations have been found and the proper legal steps have been taken, treatment for trauma, mood disorders or substance abuse is available.
Get the latest news on program developments, behavioral health news and company announcements