As summer comes to a close, everyone is busy with school shopping, open houses, and final summer activities.  But as school begins it’s important to remember domestic violence doesn’t just affect parents.  It has a devastating effect on children in the home and can make every day school activities more difficult for them.

How does domestic and family violence affect children?

Understanding the trauma that domestic and family violence can cause is an important step in supporting children who are affected.

How-DV-affects-children_300When children live with domestic and family violence, they are experiencing trauma. It can be trauma that is ongoing and long-lasting. Domestic and family violence can have impacts on health, development and wellbeing. The effects build up over time, and can impact on every aspect of their life.

Domestic and family violence can affect children in many ways

Children are affected if they:

  • Witness the violence against their mother or caretaker, or see their fear
  • Hear it in another room, or have to hide or run from abuse
  • Have to tippy-toe around an abuser to try to prevent outbursts
  • Have to comfort, clean up or take additional responsibilities for siblings/caretakers following violence
  • Are victimized for supporting their mother or caretaker
  • Are encouraged to join in with verbal abuse or contempt for their mother or caretaker
  • Cannot be cared for properly as the abuse is either directly preventing it, or is causing poor mental health and exhaustion for the caretaker
  • Experience disrupted attachment with their mother or primary caretaker as infants, or the normal co-regulation of emotions between a mother and infant is disrupted
  • Are abused themselves. People who abuse their partners or ex-partners often abuse their children as well
  • Have an acquired brain injury from physical abuse
  • Are forced to have ongoing contact with someone of whom they are scared or whose presence is a ‘trauma trigger’, following previous incidents where the children have been traumatized

The impacts of domestic and family violence are complex

When children experience domestic and family violence, it can affect their:

  • Behaviors– they can act out, over-react, and become hostile, impulsive, aggressive or defiant. They can also withdraw or dissociate or run away. All these behaviors can be normal to children who have been traumatized by family or domestic violence, and do not mean the children have ‘disorders’. Drug and alcohol use can be a problem with older children.
  • Development– normal development can be impaired. They can look like they are regressing or acting younger than their age. This can be a subconscious way of trying to get to a state where they are safe and secure. It can also be a result of the harm to the brain’s development caused by exposure to trauma.
  • Relationships– they may avoid closeness and push people away. Children may also attach to peers or adults who may be unsafe for them, to try to develop an alternative secure base, if home feels insecure.
  • Emotions– children often feel fearful, stressed, depressed, angry, anxious or ashamed. Emotional security is the foundation of healthy relationships later in life. This security can be damaged if attachment between the mother/caretaker and baby is disrupted by domestic violence.
  • Learning– they may not be able to concentrate at school because they are constantly on the lookout for danger. This can be subconscious. Detentions, missed school and frequent changes of schools can also affect learning.
  • Cognitions– children may have low self-esteem, and think negatively about themselves or people around them. (For example, they may think, ‘everyone hates me’.)
  • Physical health– a range of illnesses may be related to domestic and family violence. Headaches, stomach aches, stress reactions (for example rashes or immune system related illnesses) and sleep disturbances (for example nightmares, insomnia or bedwetting) are common.

Helping children recover

How quickly and completely children recover from the effects of domestic and family violence depends on whether:

  • They can be kept safe from violence and from reminders of previous trauma – known as ‘trauma triggers’
  • They are supported and comforted within a ‘protective cocoon’ of care after they experience trauma
  • The schools and childcare centers they attend provide an understanding and supportive environment to help with healing and recovery
  • They can have security, safety and care in their everyday lives
  • They have access to specialized trauma-informed therapies or help, if they need them
  • They can rebuild a safe and secure attachment with their mother or a protective caretaker, if they have been exposed to violence in their early years
  • Other disadvantages impact on the child’s life, such as poverty, isolation or school bullying

Recovery can also depend on individual personalities and strengths.

Do you or someone you know need help, or would you like to know more about preventing domestic violence?  Please call Camden House at 912-882-7858, we are here to help.