Advocates Against Family Violence

The Effects Of Abuse On Children

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Children universally prefer to live in peace, non-violence, and comparative security. Even if it means living with only one parent. Children who grow up in violence. . . .


  • In 41 to 55 percent of homes where police respond to domestic violence calls, children are present in the home.
  • 50 percent of children risk neglect or physical abuse sometime during their childhood.
  • 53 percent of children witnessing abuse acted out aggressively with parents.
  • 50 percent of these children acted out aggressively with their peers.
  • 60 percent of these children acted out aggressively with their siblings.
  • 63 percent of all boys, ages 11-20, who are arrested for murder have killed the man who was assaulting their mothers.


Children of DV face the dangers of:


Physical injury - A significant percentage of witnessing children are also abused.  They may worry that the abuser will harm them or that the abuser will be angry and retaliate when they return home in the event that others find out about the abuse.  Physical abuse is much more than being hit with a balled up fist. It includes being pushed, spanked until welts or bruises are left, being slapped, pulled, kicked, etc. The smaller the child is the higher the risk of spinal cord injuries from abuse and permanent damage either physically or mentally.


Psychological injury (sometimes more damaging than physical abuse) . Listed more fully below.


Incest - There is a high incident of incest committed by fathers and brothers involving the female children in homes where the father is a batterer.  Abused children may be too frightened to reveal the truth of the molestation until the batterer is out of the home for good.  Unfortunately, statistics show that it takes a victim an average of 9 times to leave their abuser for good. Ttherefore, there may be a pattern of separation that lasts for a short period of time. A sexually abused child may feel that he or she can't ever reveal the molestation as the separation may last a short time.


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Children of DV experience feelings of:


Worthlessness - Emotional abuse usually consists of being told or made to feel that they cannot do anything right, they are stupid, ugly, or not good enough for anything. As children, they take the things said by adults as something that is undeniably true and correct. Adults are people they look up to for guidance and teaching, if that adult is telling them those types of things, a child will not question the truth or accuracy of them.


Lack of personal power - Children fear retribution; should a child go to another and share the abuse at home there is always the fear that adult will bring these concerns to an involved parent. All allegations will of course be denied, and that child will then have to suffer for having told someone. They may feel that no matter whom they tell or what happens it will not change anything. Even if the abuser is escorted from the home or kicked out, it will only be a matter of time before they return and the abuse begins again, and possibly even worse than before. They often feel that no matter what they say or do the situation will never change.


Conflicting loyalties - All children often want to protect and support the mother, while boys simultaneously identify with the father as a learned response from the roles that they are taught. Both female and male children learn from the abusive relationship of the adults in the home that the place of a woman's life within those roles - is a traditional role.  Identifying with the abusive parent represents an alignment with power, but produces guilt in the child at the same time.  They may also wish to take on a care taking role with the victim, but fear that this will be seen as choosing sides from the abuser's point of view resulting in abuse that is directed towards them personally.


Fear of abandonment - Children removed from one parent as a result of violent acts may have strong fears that the other parent could also leave them or die.  A child may refuse to leave their mother even for a short time.


Depression - Children often feel responsible for the abuse, or experience guilt over not doing anything to stop the abuse. A child might think, "If I had been good daddy wouldn't have hit mommy." "If I had done more." "If I had not said this." OR "If I had done that." After having had their foundation destroyed by family violence, children find it difficult to develop trust, self-confidence, or positive self-images. Psychological pressures produce psychosomatic illnesses, nightmares, and eating disorders.


Anxiety - Even when things are calm, one never knows when the next fight will start.  There are usually no clear rules or expectations; as a result a child may be confused about right and wrong.  May lie or hide feelings to keep the peace. There is a constant feeling of walking on eggshells; never knowing when the home will explode with yelling, vengeful destruction of property, and/or physical violence. The child never really knows when to expect these things and therefore lives in a constant state of possibility. Anxiety also affects a child's health and physical and mental development.


Hostility . As stated above: 53 percent of children witnessing abuse acted out aggressively with parents. 50 percent of these children acted out aggressively with their peers. 60 percent of these children acted out aggressively with their siblings. 63 percent of all boys, ages 11-20, who are arrested for murder have killed the man who was assaulting their mothers. They may develop feelings of hate, disgust, or dislike for both the victim and the abuser as a child shows helplessness or the sense that they have no backbone. The child may go to the extreme opposite and develop attitudes of being a control freak, belligerent, and better than everyone else. They may find themselves unjustly judging others within one of those two categories with little to no room for the in-between.


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Other problems with children of DV include:


Juvenile delinquency - Because the situation at home is so unstable, children are often afraid to go to school because they are not really sure what they will find when they come home. They might also have the attitude that going to school is such a minor part of life, it will not help them much in society at all in their future as it has not helped the victim in the relationship, so what is the point. They may have the point of view that school is great for learning things that are useless in the real world, as the real world consists of very different things that people are forced to deal with on the day to day. They also learn a decided lack of respect for authority figures.


School problems - Studies indicate that stress inhibits the ability for children to learn. Many children who come from abusive homes have some degree of developmental disabilities and learning problems. They also have social problems that include fearfulness of new situations and people.  Homes with family violence lack clear boundaries and safety; which inhibit the development of self-confidence in children. They also display a need for excessive adult attention; this need can be especially troublesome for mothers who are trying to deal with their own pain and decisions, or for a teacher who has to take care of the needs of many children at one time.


Ambivalence - Children from abusive homes show a shocking lack of ability to empathize with other's problems or needs. They become desensitized to abuse. A horrifying experience for one child may be something very minor to someone who has lived around abuse, mistreatment, and foul language all of their lives. Instead of being able to help, comfort, and consol another child as a friend would. They may treat the other as if they are silly or overreacting, thereby minimizing the trauma that particular child may be experiencing.  


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Children who are exposed to abuse and another's victimization can result in:


Boys learn to think and feel that the female species of our race are lesser to that of the male species.  Abusive behavior is learned behavior.  At an early age, children raised in an abusive environment may develop patterns in their conduct that mimic the types of behavioral characteristics of batterers and victims.  Although many will intervene on at least one occasion to stop the abuse, male children identify increasingly with the batterer and adopt many of the same beliefs about women, sex roles, and the use of control tactics.


Girls devalue their femininity. The lessons they learn from experiencing or observing abuse accompany them into adulthood.  As adults, females often develop male distrust, negative attitudes toward marriage, and/or accept violence or other forms of abuse as natural. They also learn that being a woman means being a victim.


Children also learn to use violence as a way to solve problems. It is learned from observing the relationships they witness growing up - learning by example. It also shows that discipline includes physically or verbally attacking another member of the family therefore the odds that their children will also become victims of abuse are extremely high.


While growing up children often suffer from social anxiety issues and often alienate themselves from friends completely so that they don.t have to face explaining to their friends their home life as eventually all will ask. Some choose to spend all or most of their time away from the home so that they do not have to deal with it, or even may find the solace of a friend's home as their personal sanctuary. Children that come from abused homes are more likely to run away seeing as taking their chances on the streets and on their own as a more or equal gamble to that of staying home and having to face the abuse that is there, either witnessed or experiences personally.


Many times the children's initial sympathy for the victim eventually wanes and grows into disrespect. Male children, when frustrated, are frequently aggressive or throw temper tantrums. Females, by contrast, are inclined to withdraw, be passive or become anxious.


Children from abusive households often lie, tell untreu stories, or make-up stories of grandeur that depict perfect homes and relationships. Dishonesty, secrecy, silence, manipulation, denial of tension and anger, avoidance of problems in general. Confrontation is to be avoided at all costs. These actions all combine and later arise as natural personal coping skills. These tactics are used to minimize or lesson the incidents of abuse that is directed towards them as children.


Unfortunately, these skills follow them through the rest of their lives even after they are no longer within that abusive situation. It goes on to color their entire live and causes permanent damage to their own personal relationships as adults in very venue of life both business and personal. 


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Children don't necessarily get the message that this is the way family life should be, but they may come away with the idea thinks is how it is.  There is no doubt that children suffer from battering relationships between adults in the home.  Violence creates tension, fear, and uncertainty for all family members who are potential victims. 


Children may be injured when they get in the middle of fights involving parents they try to protect.  Children themselves may be abused by the battering man, or by the battered woman who cannot cope with her responsibility as a parent when she herself is a victim of abuse.  In later life, children from violent or abusive homes are likely to pattern their own behavior, sometimes consciously or sometimes without meaning to, after their childhood experiences.


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Safety is for children too!