and Domestic Violence
The Following Links
are bookmarked further down the page
hurts children too
Strategies for assisting children who are victims of domestic violence
How mothers can
help their children
Recent evidence clearly shows that living in a family where a parent is being
abused has significant traumatic effects on children.
Even when they do not observe the violence, children are usually aware that
it is occurring.
They are alert to the obvious tension, fear and distress in their parents.
Their home, instead of being a place of security, is characterised by cruelty
The longer the situation goes on the harder it
is to undo its damaging effects on children's development
There are certain developmental needs of children, which are widely
recognised, addressing areas such as language, cognition, sexual identity,
physical development, etc.
Four such developmental needs in particular are worth focusing on with
regards to domestic violence.
1. Safety and security.
Basic physical needs are obviously important to children and can be
undermined in situations of domestic violence. Infants exposed to violence may
face significant disruptions in basic sleep and feeding schedules. Financial
constraints may be placed on the mother in being able to buy basic food, when
she has no control or access to money; the need for shelter, particular at the
time of separation, and more obviously protection from danger.
In many instances of domestic violence, children are at risk of becoming
“unintentional” victims of violence as well as intentional victims of child
abuse. There are many stories women tell of holding their children when they are
attacked by their partners, or children intervening between their parents in
attempts to protect their mother from the abuser.
Children need consistency and predictability in their lives. Often they are
unable to rely on their basic needs being met. They also can never be sure what
they will be facing in their homes, when there is likely to be an explosion of
We all are aware of the need to set acceptable limits on behaviour for
children. It is difficult to achieve this for children when there are no
acceptable limits placed on their parent’s behaviour. It also common for
children to have excessive limits placed on their behaviour in order to appease
their father and attempt to prevent incidents from occurring. This means that
children are restricted in their ability to try out new skills and make choices
for themselves when their behaviour is being strictly controlled.
This often means that children’s sense of self and self-control is
undermined. The trauma in their lives causes great confusion and insecurity that
leads to regressive behaviour, such as excessive clinging to adults and a fear
of being left alone.
They often are unable to learn to take risks and experience success in a safe
and secure setting. Thus children will often express insecurity and find it
difficult to separate from their parents without distress.
3. Self Worth
Children not only should be loved, but to feel loved. Often neither parent is
fully available to the child. Both the abuser’s verbal and non-verbal messages
are derogatory and lack positive messages. Because of the mother’s possible
feelings of being overwhelmed, depression, and her own feelings of self worth,
she finds it difficult to provide for her children’s emotional needs. In order
to achieve a positive self-image a child requires an encouraging and positive
environment in which they are valued. This is difficult in a home where domestic
Part of our socialisation of children is helping them to learn how to live
cooperatively and make friendships. Rather than learning cooperation and
positive communication skills, children learn that violence is an appropriate
form of conflict resolution. They also can become very isolated – friendships
are either not encouraged, or children are too embarrassed to have friends
visits. They are also in a position of having to maintain the family secret at
all costs and therefore feel unable to develop relationships with others who may
find out this secret.
Children exposed to domestic violence in the home may exhibit a range of
internalising and externalising emotional and behavioural problems.
Nervousness, anxiety, worry
Feelings of fear, grief, shame, despair and
Psychosomatic illness including headaches,
asthma, abdominal complaints, stuttering
Poor self concept
A sense of powerlessness
Aggressive behaviours, such as destruction of
property, disobedience in school, fighting, and attacking people.
“Acting out” behaviours
“Over control” of others – being very bossy
“Over responsible” behaviours – many children
feel so responsible for their mother’s safety that they adjust their own lives
to protect their mother at all times e.g. refuse to go to school and later
receive the diagnosis of “school phobic”. Other children will go to school and
develop somatic concerns so that they can return home to their mothers. Children
also tend to assume some responsibility for the violence. Not only do they feel
that it is their duty to protect their mother but also to defuse their father’s
Difficulties with peer relationships/social
Learning that violence is a legitimate means
for resolving conflict, or for obtaining control of a situation.
Decreased cognitive ability and poor academic
performance. It is difficult for children to focus on what is happening in the
classroom if they are worried about their mother, and if they have been kept
awake all night by yelling and screaming.
Learning difficulties, which are also
associated with school attendance.
Some partners try to damage the relationship between a mum and her kids.
- tell your kids you are a ‘bad’ mother
- encourage them to ignore what you say
- stop you from attending to your child
- be jealous of your pregnancy or when you are breastfeeding your baby
Family Violence can have a worse effect on kids than separation or divorce.
The Using Children Wheel has also useful information
How do children cope with family violence?
To maintain the family secret at all costs. In
most cases, mothers will attempt to protect the children from the domestic
violence and will not talk openly to the children about the violence that has
occurred. Children learn that it is something that they must maintain silence
about it. This makes it more difficult for children to voice their experiences
and share their feelings about the violence.
Fear of expressing one’s feelings
Attempts to stop or prevent fighting, which
can put them at risk of physical assault
Thoughts of revenge
To be accommodating
Postpone satisfying their own needs
Identifying with violent and abusive feelings
Feel that violence is their fault; or the fault of the non-abusing parent
They are responsible for stopping the violence
Family Violence can have a worse effect on kids than separation or divorce.
Make sure the child knows the violence at home is not his or her
||Give them lots of cuddles
Tell them you love them - often
Reinforcing that they are not alone. Let them
know that other children have also had similar experiences.
Encourage children to talk about anything that
might be worrying them. Remember, children are NOT usually encouraged to talk
openly about violence at home and no one is supposed to talk about it outside
the family. Children's needs are often not recognised because of this.
||Show them respect and help them show respect to others
Help them make a safety plan which they can
Encouraging the identification and expression of
Promoting the understanding that family violence
is as adult problem
. Let them know it's not their role to protect you.
Encourage children to have a support network.
Consistently reinforcing that violence is
Teaching non-violent problem solving techniques
Providing the opportunity to connect with
positive male role models
Providing experiences for the development of
Encouraging and supporting the grieving over
losses that result from leaving home, pets, friends, school and the trust and
security they have yearned for and which their father has not provided
Assistance to deal with powerful mixed and
confused feelings towards their father.