Effects on Children

Common Reponses

The effects domestic violence has on children vary greatly. When identifying and helping children of domestic violence, remember they are victims, just as others in the family. Some children who are victims of domestic violence show signs of aggression; some children are helpful, overly complacent, or excel through school and seem well adjusted but disclose the witnessing of domestic violence. Many times what schools see are the behavioral responses to the child’s experience at home. We need to look to the source of the behavioral responses and identify the cause. We also need to watch for the emotional, physical, and cognitive responses.

The list below classifies the responses a child of domestic violence may exhibit. Children of domestic violence will not exhibit all these responses. Many times a pattern of these responses can be recognized or the exaggeration of a couple of the responses are seen:

Emotional Response

  • Displays excessive and inappropriate fear
  • Fear of physical harm
  • Anger, excessive and apparently inappropriate
  • Guilt for the abuse
  • Fear of abandonment
  • Embarrassed
  • Feelings of insecurity, low self-esteem
  • Ambivalence
  • Lacks ability to trust adults

Cognitive Response

  • Speech delays
  • Social skill delays
  • Little or no problem solving skills
  • Perfectionism
  • Excessively preoccupied or daydreams
  • Flashbacks describing things not in immediate surroundings
  • Little or no conflict resolution skills
  • Low academic performance
  • High academic performance, usually with perfectionism

Physical Responses

  • Bed wetting, bathroom related accidents in classroom
  • Thumb sucking
  • Rocking
  • Frequent complaints of headaches and stomach aches
  • Poor physical health
  • Sign of physical neglect, poor hygiene
  • Very aggressive with his/her body
  • Very still and withdrawn with her/his body
  • Falls asleep during low stress times

Behavioral Responses

  • Aggression to solve conflict
  • Hypervigilant
  • Wanting to call home a lot
  • Doesn’t want to come to school, scared to leave home
  • Doesn’t want to go home in the afternoon
  • Bullies other children
  • Pseudo mature
  • Victims of bullies
  • Very protective of mom, very attached to mom
  • Rather help teacher than play at recess
  • Very clinging, requires lots of teacher’s attention
  • Gets very upset when a mistake is made, may withdraw or act out aggressively

General Characteristics of Child Victims of Domestic Violence

The effects domestic violence has on children varies greatly. In working with children, remember they are victims, from the aggressive child to the complacent, helpful child. Remember: Child victims have remarkable distortions between what they feel, how they behave, and what they can remember.

  • Decreased capacity to trust
  • Hypervigilant
  • Suspended anxiety
  • Feeling responsible for abuse
  • Fear of abandonment
  • Aggressive behavior, violence to solve conflict
  • Complacent, helpful, quiet
  • Poor health, poor sleeping habits
  • Regression to earlier stages: bet wetting, thumb sucking
  • Terror and fear: yelling, hiding, screaming, shaking
  • Physical complaints: headaches, stomach aches, ulcers
  • Developmental problems in social skills and motor skills, most often speech skills
  • Adolescents exhibit: Violence in peer and dating relationships (majority boys)
  • Girls often become victims
  • School phobia
  • Poor academic performance (some children do excellent in school)
  • Child may take on adult role of protecting mother and younger siblings
  • Fear of physical harm

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