Anywhere from between 3 and 10 million children are exposed to domestic violence every year. It is estimated that the majority of these children are under the age of 8. Studies show that over half of the children who live in families where there is domestic violence are physically abused, and sexual abuse is 6 times more likely to occur.
Though we know children are resilient, we also know that witnessing violence has a far reaching impact on their development. They may exhibit a variety of problems depending on their age, gender, the length of time the abuse has been happening, the extent of the violence, and the degree to which they have supportive adults in their lives. The following problems are examples of what children growing up in a violent home may experience, even if they have not actually witnessed the physical assaults.
- Low self-esteem and worthlessness
- Guilt, feels responsible for the family’s problems
- Depressed, tired, low energy
- Overly worried about their caregivers
- Fear of being separated from caregivers
- Fear, disgust, or rage toward either parent
- The need to be “perfect”
- Humiliation and shame
- Not showing feelings about anything
- Isolates themselves from other children
- Acts anxious and/or has anxiety disorders
- Bullying, aggressive behavior, violence directed at others
- Difficulties in learning and with memory, short attention span
- Acts angry toward their abusive parent or sides with the abusive parent in blaming the victim
- Physically hurts self, others, and/or animals
- Bed-wetting reversals
- Frequent illnesses
- Sleep troubles, nightmares, fear of falling asleep
- Headaches, stomach aches, chronic health complaints
- Increased aggressive behavior
- Hyperactive, ADHD
- Children who are in homes where there is domestic violence and are experiencing several of these problems need support and possibly counseling.
Here are some suggestions:
- Seek help from people who are experts in domestic violence.
- Do not deny to children that the violence is occurring.
- Let children talk about it with trusted and supportive adults.
- Respond to their concerns with age appropriate explanations.
- Reassure children that they are not to blame.
- Build their self-esteem and create a warm, nurturing environment.
Family Crisis Services partners with Portland Defending Childhood.
Portland is one of eight sites in the country that works to both prevent children’s exposure to violence and reduce negative effects of violence. They offer information, support and evidence-based treatment.
We can Help. Call our Free 24.7 Confidential Hotline at 1.800. 537.6066.