Between 3 and 10 million children are impacted by domestic violence in the United States each year.
Children do not have to be direct victims of abuse for it to have a profound impact on them. Each child reacts differently when impacted by domestic abuse.
Short-Term Effects: These immediate reactions may differ from child to child but may include any of the following:
- Anxiety, depression
- Aggression or fighting: possibly recreating the aggression they witnessed
- Avoidance and withdrawal: staying away from activities they once enjoyed, avoiding spaces or situations that remind them of the trauma
- Oppositional behavior: tantrums, acting out
- Feelings of guilt or self-blame: believing they are the cause of the abuse, creating internal narratives like “if I would’ve cleaned my room, mom and dad wouldn’t be fighting.”
- Hyperarousal: reacting strongly to any stimuli
- Physical ailments: complaining of stomach aches and headaches
- Extreme academic performance (good or bad): excessive perfectionism or expressing obsessive concern about performance, difficulty concentrating or completing homework
- Intrusive and repeated thoughts or body stimulation tied to trauma.
- Repetitive talk/play centered around the violence
- Trouble sleeping: excessively sleeping, not being able to sleep or stay asleep, experiencing nightmares
- Worry about their caregivers and are afraid to be separated from them
Most commonly occur with chronic exposure to domestic abuse and can impact a person well beyond childhood. The context of a child and their family dynamics should be considered when identifying or discussing long term effects. These long term effects may include:
- Physical & mental health problems: autoimmune disease, heart disease, liver disease, depression, anxiety, PTSD, low self-esteem, alcohol and substance use. For more see “ACES-Adverse Childhood Experiences Study” below
- Behavior issues: impulsive acts, and criminal behavior
- Learned negative views on using violence and power: connecting love or intimacy to violence, power, and control
ACES – Adverse Childhood Experiences Study
The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study was conducted to establish the relationship between childhood trauma and that person’s overall health (mental and physical). The study established a set of risk factors correlated to poor physical and mental health outcomes, as well as social justice issues. This study does not address racial, cultural, or historical trauma.
Children and youth are incredibly resilient, even when faced with challenging and traumatic experiences. Protective factors promote resilience in children and youth and can help shape how they cope and process the effects of domestic abuse as they grow. Here are some protective factors to explore:
- Nurturing positive relationships with safe caregivers such as grandparents, non-abusive parent/guardian, aunts, uncles, etc.
- Promoting activities that attract the affirmations from safe adults and peers
- Supporting high self-esteem and self-efficacy: the belief that one is capable of successfully completing a goal or task without fear
- Connecting to something bigger than themselves like volunteering or participating in spiritual or religious practices
- Gaining access to positive social support networks like clubs, sports, group activities, teachers, coaches, mentors, day care providers, etc.
- Encouraging hobbies even if they are challenging
Source: End Abuse Wisconsin