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Domestic Violence: Effects on Children


Effects of Domestic Violence on Children
Children are resilient, yet growing up in a violent home can affect a child’s life and development. Research shows that nearly all children who live in homes where there is intimate partner violence see or hear the abuse. There are an abundance of studies available that provide documentation of various types of problems experienced by children who have been exposed to domestic violence. The level of risk in each family varies and domestic violence can have a multitude of complicated effects on children. Symptoms experienced by children who have witnessed domestic violence can include:

  • Sleep disorders

  • Depression

  • Bedwetting

  • Learning problems

  • Stomach aches

  • Isolation from friends

  • Truancy

In spite of this, we know that when properly identified and addressed, the effects of domestic violence on children can be mitigated.

Many children have developed sophisticated strategies to protect themselves from being physically and emotionally harmed. There is not a typical way a child responds to intimate partner violence. Each child has a distinct reaction and even children within the same family can be affected differently. The way in which a child responds to the violence is based on a combination of their age, gender, temperament, level of involvement in the violence, interpretation of the experience, coping skills, and availability of support systems (friends, relatives, and other adults). While the impact of domestic violence on children is real and often palpable, a surprising number of children show significant resiliency in the face of this violence.

Research demonstrates a critical connection between resiliency and a strong relationship between the child and the victimized parent.

Batterers influence on children
Another impact on children that is often overlooked is the influence that the battering parent exerts over the children’s relationship with the victimized parent. Victims of domestic violence may be undermined in their parenting role. The battering can corrode the battered parent’s relationship with her children. Perpetrators of domestic violence may thwart their (ex-) partners’ parenting in ways both obvious and insidious.

A batterer may:

  • involve the children in further controlling or harming the victim (e.g. have the children monitor the victimized parent);

  • sabotage the other parent’s authority through constant criticism or negative remarks;

  • engage in activities with the children that the abused parent has forbidden;

  • destroy the children’s belongings when the abused parent counters his authority;

  • tell the children that the victimized parent does not love or want them.

One should not be surprised if they encounter children who have a closer bond with the battering parent than with the abused parent.

Children may have adopted the philosophies that support intimate partner violence and may begin to model similar behaviors. For example, they blame the victimized parent for the abuse and problems in the family, use violence to resolve conflicts, or inflict abuse (emotional or physical) on the victimized parent or siblings. Ideally, each child should be referred to an expert in domestic violence and/or trauma who can determine what supportive services are needed to help the child cope with the violence that has occurred in the family.



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