The Effects of Exposure to Domestic Violence in Childhood

Shelter Provides Help for Families Escaping Domestic Violence

As a witness to domestic violence, a child may experience regressive behaviors or begin struggling in school.Many children who witness domestic violence may also be victims of physical abuse. Both physical abuse and the witnessing of domestic violence can create both short- and long-term difficulties for children, leading to serious physical and mental health problems.

Short-term effects of witnessing domestic violence: Preschoolers exposed to domestic violence may retreat to younger behaviors, such as thumb-sucking, bed-wetting and increased whining and crying. They may also develop signs of terror, including a stutter or hiding, or demonstrate severe separation anxiety.

School-age children may demonstrate poor self-esteem or have falling grades, because they are often likely to blame themselves for the conflicts they witness in the home. Kids may struggle to make friends and will decline to get involved in activities. They may also complain of headaches and stomachaches.

Teenage children may act out by fighting with family members or skipping school. They may be more likely to show symptoms of a serious mental health disorder, like depression.

Long-term effects of witnessing domestic violence: One of the biggest consequences of children being exposed to domestic violence is their tendency to repeat the cycle. A boy who sees his mother being physically abused is 10 times more likely to abuse his female partner when he is an adult. A girl who witnesses her mother being abused is six times more likely to experience sexual assault than a girl who has not been exposed to domestic violence.

Children who witness domestic violence are at an increased risk for both mental and physical health problems in adulthood. Conditions such as depression, poor self-esteem and anxiety, as well as physical problems, such as diabetes, obesity and heart disease.

There are a few key things that you can work on to help a child counter the effects of domestic violence in the home:

  • Help them develop positive relationships with adults
  • Work to help them build a strong self-esteem
  • Encourage them to build healthy friendships

While the child may not be able to forget the abuse they have witnessed, they can learn healthy ways to handle the emotions they experience related to the events.

The Shelter (YWCA St. Joseph) provides support and assistance to families escaping domestic violence. To learn more about the services we offer, including court advocacy, counseling and housing, please contact us today.

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