How Abuse Effects Children



Effects of Domestic Violence on Children


  • Act out versus withdraw
  • Overachieve vs. underachieve
  • Refusal to go to school
  • Care taking (worrying about the needs of others more than self)
  • Aggressive / Passive
  • Rigid defenses—aloof, sarcastic, blaming, defensive
  • Attention—seeking attention
  • Bed-wetting, nightmares
  • Chaotic—hard to set limits with them


  • To feel responsible for the violence
  • To blame others for their behaviors
  • To believe it is okay to hit others to get what you want, to express anger, to feel powerful, to get your needs met
  • To have low self concept
  • Not to ask for what they need
  • Not to trust (because of unkept promises to change)
  • Believe that to feel angry is bad
  • Believe in rigid sex roles


  • Guilt—feeling responsible for violence
  • Shame—thinking that it does not happen anywhere else
  • Fear—of expressing feelings, of divorce or separation, of injury
  • Confusion—love/hate
  • Anger—about the violence, lack of safety, etc.
  • Grief—over family loss issues
  • Burdened—over inappropriate role as caretaker


  • Somatic complaints—headaches, stomach aches, asthma
  • Nervous, anxious, short attention span
  • Tired, lethargic (seem lazy)
  • Sick often with colds, flu, etc.
  • Personal hygiene neglected
  • Regression in developmental tasks, like bed-wetting, thumb-sucking, clinging


  • Isolated—without friends or distant in relationship
  • Relationship with friends may start intensely and end abruptly
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Poor conflict resolution skills
  • May be excessively socially involved (to stay away from home)
  • May be passive with others and / or seek power to be aggressor


Characteristic Behaviors of Children Who Experience Family Violence

There are some behaviors commonly found in children who are reared in families with violent interaction patters. They include:

  • Role reversal – Often an older child is forced to accept responsibility for care of younger siblings and of the household due to the parents’ inability to fulfill these functions. This child may never have the opportunity to participate in normal childhood activities.
  • Aggressive behavior – Some of these children may act in an aggressive manner at home and in school, toward other siblings, children and adults.  This behavior may also include destruction of property and/or theft.
  • Violence toward parents – When these children become adolescents or adults, they may turn on their parents.
  • Running away – These children may run away, perceiving this as their only alternative for escaping an unbearable home situation.
  • Truancy – These children often fail to attend school. They may believe that if they stay home their presence will keep the fighting under control, or that peers will recognize their physical abuse, emotional deprivation, or sexual abuse.
  • Shy, withdrawn behavior – These children may not interact with others. As this behavior seldom attracts attention, these children may not be identified as troubled.
  • Substance abuse – Older children from violent families may engage in excessive use of alcohol or drugs. This behavior is often modeled after the parents’ behavior, and is perceived as a psychological escape from their problems.
  • Abusive behavior – When these children become adults, they may abuse their own children or spouses.

child abuse 1


Safety Plan for Children

Teach children to safety plan

Let them know if someone is hurting them or hurting someone they love, they should call 911.

For their safety, children need to know they should not try to get involved if violence breaks out at home.

Let children know that if there is violence in their home, they should find a safe place to hide.

Practice with children how to get out of the home safely.


Effects on Children from Witnessing Domestic Violence

Some common reactions to trauma for:

0-3 year olds

  • Fear of separation from mom, being clingy
  • Problems sleeping or nightmares
  • Toileting problems
  • Startle response to noises or movement
  • Increased signs of fearfulness
  • Increased fussiness, crying or neediness
  • Loss or decrease of speech or motor skills
  • Withdrawal, decreased responsiveness

3-5 year olds

  • Repeated retelling of the traumatic event
  • Behavior or mood changes
  • Obvious anxiety and fearfulness
  • Regressing / acting younger than usual
  • Loss or decrease of previous skills related to language, toileting, self-care
  • Sleep disturbances such as nightmares, night terrors, fear of going to sleep
  • Withdrawal
  • Fear of separation from caretakers
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Physical complaints of aches and pains
  • Increased acting out

5-12 year olds

  • Bed wetting
  • Low self esteem
  • Aggressiveness, bullies peers
  • Engages in violent acts, hurts peers, siblings and animals
  • Stealing
  • Few or no friends
  • Failing grades and learning disabilities
  • Self-abusive

12-18 year olds

  • Stomach aches, ulcers
  • Severe acne
  • Eating disorders
  • Loneliness and isolation
  • Anxiety and fear
  • Very violent, criminal activity
  • Violent dating
  • Poor school performance
  • Few friends
  • Poor job potential
  • Self-destructive behaviors, drug and alcohol abuse, suicidal thoughts and attempts



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