The Impact Of Domestic Violence On Children

November 2, 2011


Every year in the United States, between 3 and 10 million children witness intimate partner violence between their caregivers. These children really do suffer as a result. I have often played a 911 call during training of a 6-year-old calling for help as her mother is beaten (Warning: This phone call is very disturbing to hear. Listen with caution.). This is not an uncommon response to a traumatic event. The problem is these acute reactions do not always get noticed. The resultant chronic issues are frequently misinterpreted, and often not treated as a result. The fact is that children do react to violence, and children are probably not as "resilient" as some would like to believe.

Children who grow up in violent homes are more likely to be victims of:

  • child maltreatment (30-60% increased risk)
  • increased aggressive behaviors and attitudes
  • increased anxiety and depressive symptoms
  • decreases in school performance and cognitive ability
  • poor mediation skills

...and these problems often persist into adulthood.

Boys tend to externalize their anger, and become violent with others, while girls tend to internalize emotions by showing evidence of increased depression and withdrawal. As adults, these boys tend to batter, and the girls tend to be battered.

Intimate partner violence in the presence of children is child abuse. I previously blogged about adverse childhood experiences, and more information from the CDC can be found here. The gist of these studies is that not only do we need to worry about these behavioral, cognitive and emotional responses for these children, but they also pay a high price in their physical health. So helping the battered parent is helping the child as well.

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