Often women who experience domestic violence are mothers, and this means their child/ren experience the violence also. This includes knowing about, seeing or hearing violence against someone else. It also includes being the target of hurt or abuse. Witnessing episodes of violence between people they love can affect children as much as if they were the victims of the violence.
You might think children don’t worry about people fighting at home. You might think children will soon forget things they see or hear – like mum being hit or parents screaming and yelling at each other.
They DON’T forget!
In fact children, even babies and very young children can be profoundly frightened and affected. Many children believe they are partly to blame and may think that they can make the situation better by not saying how they feel or by keeping out of the way.
The violence is NEVER the child’s fault!
Children who witness regular acts of violence have greater emotional and behavioural problems than other children. Their response can depend on their age, gender, personality and family role.
In the short term children may:
- Blame themselves for the violence
- Experience sleeping difficulties, such as nightmares
- Regress to an earlier stage of development, such as thumb sucking and bed wetting
- Become increasingly anxious or fearful
- Start to withdraw from people and events
- Become a victim or perpetrator of bullying
- Experience stress-related illnesses, such as headache or stomach pain
- Display speech difficulties, such as stuttering.
In the long-term children may:
- Grow up to solve their problems using violence, rather than through more peaceful means
- Copy their parental role models and behave in similar destructive ways in their adult relationships.
Parents/Carers can help their children emotionally recover from domestic violence by:
- Getting support to take action against the violence
- Protecting children from violence by taking them to a safe place
- Telling the child that abusive behaviour is wrong and be a role model for other ways of managing anger and solving problems
- Reassuring the child that none of the violent episodes were their fault in any way
- Telling them how much they are loved and cuddle them often
- Encouraging them to talk openly about their feelings
- Getting extra help for the child if necessary
- Enlisting a trusted adult to provide the child with emotional support
- Seeking professional help, such as counselling, for all family members.