The effects of Domestic Violence on Children

The effects of Domestic Violence on Children

Jorge Yeshayahu Gonzales-Lara
Sociologist, MA; CASAC-T

"Families under stress produce children under stress. If a spouse is being abused and there are children in the home, the children are affected by the abuse." (Ackerman and Pickering, 1989)
Domestic violence affects all family members, especially children. Family violence creates a home environment where children live in constant fear. Children who witness family violence are affected in ways similar to children who are physically abused Family violence creates a home environment where children live in constant fear. Children who witness domestic violence are affected similarly to children who are abused physically, sexually and emotionally. Parents are often unable to establish links with raising children, unable to establish nurturing bonds and have a greater risk of abuse and neglect if they live in a violent home.

Recently studies show that more than 3 million children witness violence in their homes each year. Those who see and hear violence in the home suffer physically and emotionally. Families with children living in stress product of domestic violence and creates insecurity and live in constant fear that children are affected that extends throughout the home.

The abuser violates the space of a spouse physically and emotionally. Children witnesses of domestic violence and is reflected in their behavior as low self-esteem, violent games and develops self-defense mechanisms that internalize.

Statistics show that over 3 million children witness violence in their home each year. Those who see and hear violence in the home suffer  shame, guilt, self blame, confusion about conflicting feelings toward parents, fear of abandonment, or expressing emotions, the unknown or personal injury.anger and depression, feelings of helplessness and powerlessness.

Dynamics of domestic violence are unhealthy for children: 

• Control of family by one dominant member.
• Abuse of a parent.
• Isolation.
• Protecting the "family secret".
• Children react to their environment in different ways, and reactions can vary depending on the child's gender and age.
• Children exposed to family violence are more likely to develop social, emotional, psychological and or behavioral problems than those who are not. Recent research indicates that children who witness domestic violence show more anxiety, low self esteem, depression, anger and temperament problems than children who do not witness violence in the home. The trauma they experience can show up in emotional, behavioral, social and physical disturbances that effect their development and can continue into adulthood.

Emotional effects.

• Grief for family and personal losses.
• Shame, guilt, and self blame.
• Confusion about conflicting feelings toward parents.
• Fear of abandonment, or expressing emotions, the unknown or personal injury.
• Anger.
• Depression and feelings of helplessness and powerlessness.
• Embarrassment.
• Behavioral
• Acting out or withdrawing.
• Aggressive or passive.
• Refusing to go to school.
• Care taking; acting as a parent substitute.
• Lying to avoid confrontation.
• Rigid defenses.
• Excessive attention seeking.
• Bedwetting and nightmares.
• Out of control behavior.
• Reduced intellectual competency.
• Manipulation, dependency, mood swings.

Social Isolation from friends and relatives

• Stormy relationships.
• Difficulty in trusting, especially adults.
• Poor anger management and problem solving skills.
• Excessive social involvement to avoid home.
• Passivity with peers or bullying.
• Engaged in exploitative relationships as perpetrator or victim.

• Somatic complaints, headaches and stomachaches.
• Nervous, anxious, short attention span.
• Tired and lethargic.
• Frequently ill.
• Poor personal hygiene.
• Regression in development.
• High risk play.
• Self abuse

Abusers are very good at controlling and manipulating their victims. People who have been emotionally abused or battered are depressed, drained, scared, ashamed, and confused. They need help to get out, yet they’ve often been isolated from their family and friends. By picking up on the warning signs and offering support, you can help them escape an abusive situation and begin healing.

September 28, 2010,
Long Island, New York

Bibliography and References

  • Red Flags for Abusive Relationships – Checklist of warning signs and red flags that you’re in an abusive relationship. (Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance)
  • Symptoms of Emotional Abuse (for women) and Symptoms of Emotional Abuse (for men) – Guide to emotional abuse and the warning signs, including common characteristics of abusers. (Lilac Lane)
  • What Does Love Got to Do With It? Why People Stay in Relationships with Angry People – Discusses codependency in abusive relationships, how to evaluate the health of your relationship, and tips for getting out. (Get Your Angries Out)
  • Emotional Abuse – In-depth discussion of emotional abuse, including types of emotional abuse and signs of abusive, authority-based relationships. (

Domestic violence and physical abuse
  • Domestic Violence Awareness Handbook – Guide to domestic violence covers common myths, what to say to a victim, and what communities can do about the problem. (U.S. Department of Agriculture)
  • Domestic Violence: The Cycle of Violence – Learn about the cycle of violence common to abusive relationships. (Mid-Valley Women’s Crisis Service)
  • The Problem – Describes the problem of battering and signs of domestic violence. (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence)
  • Domestic Violence Warning Signs – Describes common warning signs that an individual is being emotionally abused or beaten. (Safe Place, Michigan State University)
For men
  • Intimate Partner Abuse Against Men (PDF) – Learn about domestic violence against men, including homosexual partner abuse, sexual abuse of boys and male teenagers, and abuse by wives or partners. (National Clearinghouse on Family Violence, Canada)
Abused Men: Domestic Violence Works Both Ways – Women are not the only victims of domestic abuse and domestic violence. Learn more about the problems abused men face. (
For teens
  • Dating Violence – Guide to teen dating violence, including early warning signs that your boyfriend or girlfriend may become abusive. (The Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence)
  • Teens: Love Doesn’t Have To Hurt (PDF) – A teen-friendly guide to what abuse looks like in dating relationships and how to do something about it. (American Psychological Association)
For gay men and women
  • Abuse in Same-Sex Relationships – Learn myths about same-sex abuse, unique problems victims of same-sex abuse face, and how to get help. (Education Wife Assault)
For immigrants
  • Information for Immigrants – Domestic violence resources for immigrant women. En Español: Información para Inmigrantes. (Women’s Law Initiative)
Domestic violence hotlines and help
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) – A crisis intervention and referral phone line for domestic violence. (Texas Council on Family Violence)
  • State Coalition List – Directory of state offices that can help you find local support, shelter, and free or low-cost legal services. Includes all U.S. states, as well as the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands. (National Coalition Against Domestic Violence)
  • Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., contributed to this article. Last reviewed: March 2010. © 2001-2007. All rights reserved
  • Charles E. Corry, Ph.D. Domestic Abuse And Violence Defined.

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