Impact of Domestic Violence on Children
JWI gratefully acknowledges the National Center for Children Exposed to Violence and the Child Welfare Information Gateway for information provided in this section.
Each year, according to the National Center for Children Exposed to Violence, an estimated 3 to 10 million children witness assaults against a parent by an intimate partner. They may exhibit substantial responses, both immediate and long-term. The following signs may indicate abuse, though they could also result from a variety of stressful and disturbing situations:
Behavioral, social, and emotional problems
- higher levels of aggression, anger and hostility
- “acting out”
- oppositional behavior and disobedience
- fear and anxiety
- changes in sleeping patterns
- changes in eating patterns
- poor peer, sibling and social relationships
- low self-esteem
Cognitive and attitudinal problems
- lower cognitive functioning
- poor school performance
- lack of conflict resolution skills
- limited problem solving skills
- pro-violence attitudes
- belief in rigid gender stereotypes and male privilege
- higher levels of adult depression and trauma symptoms
- increased tolerance for and/or use of violence in adult relationships
Factors that can influence how a child witness reacts and responds to domestic abuse include:
- Nature of the violence: Children who witness frequent and severe violence or do not see their caregivers resolving conflict may experience more distress than children who witness fewer incidences of physical violence and observe positive interactions between their caregivers.
- Coping strategies and skills: Children with poor coping skills are more likely to experience problems than children with strong coping skills and supportive social networks.
- Age of the child: Younger children appear to exhibit higher levels of emotional and psychological distress than older children. Age-related differences might result from older children's more developed cognitive abilities to understand the violence and select various coping strategies to alleviate upsetting symptoms.
- Elapsed time since exposure: Children often have heightened levels of anxiety and fear immediately after a violent event. Fewer observable effects are seen in children as more time passes after the violent event.
- Gender: In general, boys exhibit more "externalized behaviors" (e.g., aggression or acting out) while girls exhibit more "internalized" behaviors" (e.g., withdrawal or depression).
- Presence of child physical or sexual abuse: Children who witness domestic violence and are physically abused are at risk for increased levels of emotional and psychological maladjustment than children who only witness violence and are not abused.
If your child witnesses domestic abuse, counseling may be helpful to understand, cope, and work through some of the psychological effects. Many domestic violence programs also offer counseling for children.
See JWI's Resource Directory to locate professionals in your community.
Information contained on this website should not be construed as legal advice. Read full disclaimer.