Effects on Children Witnessing Domestic Violence
It is impossible to prevent children witnessing domestic violence. They may see or hear the abusive episode, be used or even involved in the violence (eg the child may be in his mother's arms when she is hit), will experience the aftermath, and sense the tension in the build-up to the abuse. Even when the parents believe the children were unaware of what was happening, the children can often give detailed accounts of the events.
Sometimes the children will be drawn in to the domestic violence themselves, either in trying to protect a younger sibling or in trying to protect the parent who is being physically assaulted:
A common feeling amonst parents is that it is somehow better to stay together for the sake of the children, but as Zena makes clear, for children witnessing domestic violence, they would often prefer separation and an end to the 'trouble'.
As well as the physical violence often found in abusive relationships, the children will almost certainly be subjected to frequent emotional abuse of the mother in the form of name-calling, accusations and threats made by the abuser in their presence. As mentioned above, where the wife/partner is being abused, the children are also likely to be abused themselves. This is most true of emotional abuse, where the children's own self-esteem is battered by being shouted at, told they are stupid or are not trying hard enough, or given mixed messages by being favoured one moment and put-down the next. Quite apart from possible physical involvement or direct abuse, these emotionally damaging actions have a detremental and often long-lasting effect on the children.
The Effect of Witnessing Abuse
Many children who witness the abuse of their mothers demonstrate significant behavioural and/or emotional problems including psychosomatic disorders, stuttering, anxiety and fears, sleep disruption, excessive crying and problems at school.
How your child or children will be affected depends on the individual child, their age and gender, how much they witness and whether or not they are personally involved in the abuse, their personality and support available to them. Although research in this field is still largely lacking, it is generally agreed that Domestic Violence or Abuse is highly relevant to the child's present and future well-being, and that there is a significant overlap with child abuse.
To really understand the effect of living in a home with an abuser,
we recommend you read the authority on the subject by Lundy Bancroft.
A MUST READ for anyone with kids whose partner is abusive!
In This Section:
Useful Books on Domestic Violence and Children available from the UK:
Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men by Lundy Bancroft
Useful Books on Domestic Violence and Children available in the US:
Freedoms Flowers by Pat Craven is a book about the effects of domestic abuse on children. It is composed of firsthand accounts from these children and their mothers. Some of the children write as adults from memory and some are male. The youngest contributor is eight years old. Their stories describe not only the abuse from the perpetrators but the dreadful collusion from the so called professionals who should have been protecting the victims instead of worsening the effects of the abuse.
This book should be read by every teacher, social worker, solicitor, judge and member of the medical profession who comes in to contact with any aspect of domestic abuse.
It should be read by every woman who is staying with an abuser for the sake of the children. Every woman whose children wet the bed, throw tantrums and attack other children should read this. Every woman whose children have been taken into care should also read this. The book also sends a strong message about hope.
The contributors describe how their lives were saved when they attended the Freedom Programme. They did not need therapy or threats to save their children from abuse. They only needed information to enable them to make informed decisions. Knowledge is power!
To buy in the UK:
And to buy in The US:
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