What happens to children exposed to domestic violence? A lot–and none of it is good.
Children not only watch the abuse. They hear the sounds of abuse, see the bruises, and of course, very often, they too are the victims. They are taught to keep the family secret. They suffer in silence and shame.
The effects follow into adulthood with long range consequences. Several studies agree that children who witness domestic violence have a variety of effects depending upon the their age, the severity of the abuse and length of time and frequency of the abuse.
Infants will exhibit:
Difficulty with toilet training
Problems with language development
Older children experience:
Problems with schoolwork
Later in life they can expect:
To be a victim or perpetrator of domestic violence
To lose empathy for others
Difficulty forming friendships
Difficulty maintaining employment
The list of problems goes on. Anyone can infer, that once domestic violence enters the life of a child, the cycle of abuse has been created. And in many cases, it continues into future generations.
What do children victims of domestic violence need?
To start, children need to be heard and believed. Adults that work, live and interact with children and the family members need to be aware of the signs of domestic violence and they have to be willing to break the silence and speak out.
Children also need support services to begin to heal. A holistic, individualized plan is important as each child can be affected differently from exposure to domestic violence. Additionally, studies show that interventions for abused mothers and fathers will ultimately help the children involved as well.
Children must be taught – repeatedly – that domestic violence and aggressive behaviors are wrong. They need positive relationship role models to understand how to avoid violence in their own personal relationships. And finally, and most importantly, they need what we all need – love, understanding and compassion from everyone around them.