The effects of domestic violence on children are usually far-reaching. Physical abuse witnessed by children can serve to damage a child’s growth. The violence usually takes place in the home environment where children should feel safe. On the one hand, lack of support or confidence of their parents or caregivers can mean that the children might be struggling with the feelings of fear, guilt or shame. On the other hand, children who witness violence against their mother are on the verge of deep psychological trauma. They may tend to suffer considerable risks physically, psychologically, and emotionally. Children who have witnessed battering of their mother could sustain an injury associated with the fact that they might have dealt with a state of helplessness in protecting their parent. The impact on children can be quite different, depending on the stage of their development and the way they react to the environment. Children at preschool level are likely to suffer from behavioral disturbances (Hughes, 1988). These children are inclined to blame themselves combined with being vulnerable to adult’s anger (Jaffe, Wolfe, & Wilson, 1990). Babies who are brought up in a home where domestic violence occurs are subjected to high levels of ill health, poor sleeping habits, and excess screaming (Jaffe et al., 1990). Women who have been battered over and over again tend to show inability to respond psychologically to their children. They might display some weird behaviors such as unresponsiveness to their innocents’ emotional needs, detachment from their own child, and passive rejection of the offspring; all these factors have a negative compounding effect on a child’s life. Children predisposed to domestic violence learn that one can get what he or she wants only by opposing others; violence is a solution. They also gain rigid views and perception of gender roles, for instance, they may believe that it is acceptable for a man to be aggressive and domineering. Domestic violence has been shown to affect the social behavior of children. This behavior varies depending on the age of the child. Infants are affected differently from toddlers as well as teenagers. Social behavior refers to the manner in which the children interact with their surroundings. Be it in class, in the field, with relatives or with other children. For infants, they tend to recoil or easily startled and also cry a lot anytime someone tries to hold them. This is because they lack the sense of comfort and security that they should be getting. Some of the infants might show a lack of responsiveness due to the lack of attachment to the parent especially the mother. As toddlers, they will tend to shy away from people due to feelings of anxiety and fear of strangers. They are also timid and reclusive, staying away from their peers as well, as the adults. On the other hand, the toddlers might be extremely hyperactive and violent towards others. Due to the fact they probably do not get attention at home and consider violence to be an acceptable way of solving issues. This is a consequent result of the environment towards them. Upbringing of a child is largely influenced by his or her environment. The home environment is usually the foundation of a child’s perception, acquisition of values and morals. As teenagers, some keep to themselves not wanting to get involved in any of the activities due to constant anxiety and fear of danger. It is not uncommon for them to be aggressive and violent towards others. Some teenagers will also show hyperactivity and get too involved with peers and destructive behavior in an effort to dull or forget the traumatic home experiences. They might have problems with authority due to their aggressive behavior. If not handled or if the child keeps witnessing domestic violence, the child might continue to have social problems in adulthood. With seclusion, regression and violence towards others, since that is what they grew up seeing. Others have a problem getting attached to others or trusting.
Education or academic effects on children
Domestic violence has a marked effect on the educational aspect of a child. As the child tries to make sense of the violence, concentration on academics is reduced. So the child might end up getting low grades and lack of interest. A time, the child might not get a chance to get the homework done or even study due to the volatile atmosphere at home which also translates to poor grades and performance.
Teenagers who are affected might lose interest in academics or other extracurricular activities. Some even go ahead to drop out of school because of bad peer influence or just sheer lack of interest. Domestic violence tend to result in reduced cognitive and brain development which then affects their performance in school, since they cannot keep up with children their age who have not witnessed domestic violence. The academics of a child might be affected by the change of environment. In this case, due to domestic violence, one party might move away with the child to a different place. This could also mean a change in the school. While most kids can adapt easily, some of them who come from a violent home are likely to have a hard time adjusting. This will affect their grades as well as their interaction with school mates.
Behavioral Effects on Children
Children who witness domestic violence or even get caught in the middle of the altercations exhibit a number of behavioral symptoms. For infants, they show irritability, crying and screaming a lot. They also shy away from being touched and are easily startled. Some also experience diarrhea and digestive problems accompanied with the lack of appetite.
The unrest at home can also disrupt sleeping and eating times, which contributes a lot more to the irritability of the child. For toddlers, they show regressive behavior whereby they can be whinny and clingy especially to the victim of domestic violence. Others retreat into a shell whereby they live in fear of danger and avoid any attachment. Others exhibit signs of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) which include insomnia, nightmares and bed wetting. They also show anxiety with strangers as they are wary of a violent outbreak.
In school, they might ‘space out’ during class sessions where they might be worrying about the victim parent of just stressed about it. Others tend to be aggressive and not uncommon that some of them bully their schoolmates. Alternatively, they might be the victims of bullying due to their shy and reclusive behavior as well as low self-esteem. Fantuzo et al. (1991) reported that children who witnessed both physical and verbal abuse of their mother displayed more behavioral problems than children witnessing verbal abuse alone.Some may resort to overdosing or cutting themselves as a way of escaping the pain. Eating disorders are also common among the girls. Problems with authority are not uncommon as they are trying to show rebellion. Teenage girls are more likely to put up with an abusive boyfriend since they have seen the mothers putting up with it. Boys on the other hand, tend to show violent behavior towards girls.
Psychological effects on children
Domestic Violence does take a immense toll on a psychology of a child. Many lack the sense of security since the violence happens at home where they are supposed to feel safest. The children get anxious a lot due to fear of violence as well as the fear of losing their parents. Most of them also suffer from low self-esteem due to emotional abuse from the parent or even guilt responsible for the violence going on. They may feel guilty for not being in a position to help victimized parent.
Other children internalize the stress and anxiety they feel, which almost always leads to depression if not treated. These kids are quiet and secluded when around people. The internalization could lead to suicidal and self-destructive tendencies. While some children internalize their trauma, there are others who externalize their trauma. This usually comes out as unnecessarily aggressive and angry at everyone and everything. Confusion also happens when the child does not know who to side with especially if one parent is using the child to manipulate the other.
PTSD is also a psychological effect which can be characterized by bed wetting, nightmares and insomnia. Regression can also happen, whereby a child shows infantile behavior by going back from the matured state to the infant stage. Low self-esteem is also one of the effects from domestic violence. This stems from feeling helpless in the situation, not being able to help the victimized parent and the emotional or physical violence the kids themselves experience.
One of the interventions designed to reduce the effect of domestic violence on children, is through following Patterson’s model of the antisocial behavior (Patterson 1982; Patterson, DeBarsyshe and Ramsey 1989; Patterson, Reid and Dishion 1992). The Patterson’s model addresses childhood conduct problems. Patterson’s model highlights the role of parenting and its impact on the development of child conduct problems. It emphasizes the role played by both parents; the father and the mother in the development of the child’s behavior or conduct.
Patterson’s theory suggests that domestic violence and its concomitant stressors may affect the parent’s ability to foster parental discipline and encourage pro-social child behavior. Domestic violence aggravates irritability, mental distraction and emotional draining, reducing their ability to be attentive and sensitive to a child’s need (Easterbrook and Emde 1988; Holden and Ritchie 1991). Consistent with the same school of thought experimental research marital conflict alters parent-child interaction (Jouriles and Farris 1992; Mahoney, Boggio and Jouriles 1996). Patterson’s model emphasizes on effective training on child management skills. The teaching implies that parents change the way they interact with children. He cites this as an effective means of helping children and their families communicate effectively and encourage a positive child behavior. This notion has yielded positive results according to outcome of various studies. This indicate that training parent in child management skills is one of the most effective means of reducing conduct problems in young children (Kazdin 1997; Kazdin and Weisz 1998). These interventions typically focus on teaching parents how to enhance parent-child communication and promote pro-social behavior. Counseling is recommended, be it in school or privately, since it helps the child open up and cope with the situation. Arranging activities like play dates, anger management and safety programs will help the child.
Domestic violence has become rampant the world over, and millions of children are being affected by it. From the findings above, domestic affects children in almost all aspects of their lives and some cases, the effects follow the child into adulthood. This is the reason you will find the cycle repeating it. Whereby, most men who grew up in a violent environment are three times more likely to be violent towards their spouses, than those who grew up in a peaceful environment. On the other hand, women who grew up in violent environment are more likely to put up with a violent spouse than those who did not grow up in violence. Some adults still suffer from low self-esteem and can be very secluded while others maintain their anger and aggression. In worst cases, a few will end up committing suicide, overdosing or other suicidal behavior.
Obviously, domestic violence is a widespread disaster that does not get the seriousness it deserves. It is destroying the children who are the future of our planet. Awareness needs to be raised everywhere and parents educated and reminded that their actions are affecting the children. Parents need to be assured that is never too late to save a child from a violent environment, that this effect can be tackled one at a time. Children who are exposed to violence are denied their vey basic right to a safer and stable home environment. A hostile and violent home environment serves as a safe breeding for delinquent behaviors and limited social skills.
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