Effects of Domestic Violence on Children

The difference between child and adult victims of domestic violence is that the adult is, at least to some extent, a fully developed person who is physically equipped to take care of her own basic survival needs. An adult has tools available, such as language and reason, to make sense of a difficult experience and to meet emotional needs through support from others. A child’s developing sense of self – of belief in one’s own goodness and in the general goodness of others – is a fragile entity. When the adult surroundings are full of conflict, fear and pain, a child’s growth and emotional well-being can be jeopardized.

Possible Signs and Symptoms of Children Who Witness Domestic Violence

More than half of the school-age children in domestic violence shelters show clinical levels of anxiety or posttraumatic stress disorder (Graham-Bermann, 1994). Without treatment, these children are at significant risk for delinquency, substance abuse, school dropout, and difficulties in their own relationships. Children may exhibit a wide range of reactions to exposure to violence in their home. Here are several examples of typical behavioral characteristics of domestic violence witnesses based on the age of the child:

Younger Children (Preschool and Kindergarten)

  • Tend to believe that they “must have done something wrong”
  • Have feelings of guilt, worry, and anxiety
  • May be withdrawn or non-verbal
  • Display regressive behaviors such as clinging and whining
  • May have eating and sleeping difficulties and concentration problems
  • Experience physical complaints (e.g. headaches, stomachaches)

Pre-Adolescent Children

  • May have eating disorders and sleeping disturbances
  • Show a loss of interest in social activities and have low self-concept
  • May display an avoidance of peer relations or rebellious behaviors
  • Treating pets cruelly or threatening peers or siblings with violence
  • Girls are more likely to exhibit withdrawal style symptoms

Adolescent Children

  • At risk of academic failure and delinquency
  • More likely to drop out of school
  • Show a higher incidence rate of substance abuse
  • Experience a high risk of becoming abused or becoming an abuser in their own adolescent relationships

Need information on what to do and how TurnAround can help?

Get Help

Do you or someone you know need our services?

Contact Us