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Living With Domestic Violence is Damaging Our Children

When we talk about abusive relationships and domestic violence we tend to concentrate on the adults, the abuser and the abused. Sadly, though all too often the people affected most are the innocent children. The only people who have no say in the matter and have no way of getting themselves out of this dysfunctional situation.

Adults can at least decide they need help and make a decision to end the relationship, children can't. The partners can at least justify to themselves and the world why it is happening - children can't. Adults have a perception of time and they can differentiate between last month and last week - small children can't.

Image : Pink Sherbet Photography - Flickr

Image : Pink Sherbet Photography - Flickr

One in every 4 women will become victims of domestic violence sometime during their lifetime. That is a chilling fact. What is even more perturbing is the fact that more than 50% of female victims of domestic violence in America have children under 12 years old living with them. It is estimated that as many as 3 million children witness domestic violence annually.

The saddest part of all is that none of these figures can truly reflect or measure the life-long impact that domestic violence can have on these children's self-value, capacity to trust others, and the effect it will have on their relationships throughout their lives, including parenthood.These children may use violence in their own adult relationships and generally as adults display a higher level of trauma symptoms and depression. The only way to break the cycle is for the abused parent to remove herself and these children from their violent surroundings and ensure that they get the best support from suitably qualified people.

In many homes where domestic violence occurs the parents are under the misconception that their children are unaware of the violence if it has not taken place in close proximity to the children. However research suggests that more than 80% of the children living in a house where domestic violence takes place are aware of the violence. They may not witness the actual violence but they do hear the fighting, hear the screams and see the injuries. They are also traumatized by the parent's emotional pain and suffering after the violence has taken place. In cases where the domestic violence has been part of their lives for prolonged periods these children have a complete misconception of normality.

Children who are witnesses of domestic violence often have no emotional support system.  The abusing parent is  recognized as  unsafe and the abused parent  may be so traumatized  that they may be unavailable to offer emotional support to the child. What aggravates the whole situation is the fact that the child is usually confused and feels guilty about loving the abuser, hating them one moment and loving them the next and feeling guilty for doing either. The abused parent may also find it difficult to comprehend that the child can express any love towards the abusive partner.

Being exposed to domestic violence often results in these children resorting to abusive and violent behavior as their primary means of resolving conflict. Studies indicate that these children have a 74% higher likelihood of committing assault as adults.

Image courtesy Heraldspost- Flickr

Image courtesy Heraldspost- Flickr

Children Don't Often Speak Out

Even if the child is old enough to disclose the violence it is highly unlikely that they will do so. Divided loyalties to parents, feelings of shame and guilt as well as fears of unpleasant consequences as a result of such disclosure will prevent them from seeking assistance.

These children often feel guilty about not being able to stop the abuse and tend to take responsibility for its occurrence. They may also perceive the world to be an unpredictable, threatening and hostile place. One can hardly begin to imagine what it must be like for a young child to have to deal with these emotions.

Image courtesy Mtsofan - Flickr

Image courtesy Mtsofan - Flickr

They are constantly on edge as they wait for the next beating to occur and suffer severe anxiety about being abandoned.  Children who have been exposed to domestic violence often experience difficulties at school and are known to suffer from headaches, stomach aches and other stress related ailments.  They are also considered a higher risk for substance abuse.

Research has shown that witnessing domestic violence has harmful effects on the emotional, social and cognitive development of children.

Children who have been exposed to domestic violence may develop various adjustment problems or maladaptive behavior. Boys generally tend to become more aggressive whereas girls tend to become more withdrawn. The frequency and severity of the violence that children are exposed to will impact the distress level they are likely to suffer.

Witnessing only negative interactions between the parents will also heighten the distress whereas if they witness positive interactions in the time lapses between the violence it could alleviate the level of distress that the children endure.

No child will be unscathed by domestic violence in their family. Their reactions are not always immediately apparent and may only present themselves weeks or months after the exposure. The age of the child when exposed to the violence will play a role in how they express their confusion, anger, fear and stress.

Negative Effects of Domestic Violence on Children

Children Up To The Age of 5 Years Old

Younger children appear to be more affected by the violence and display higher levels of emotional and psychological distress. Young children may display regressive behavior (returning to behaviors exhibited at an earlier age) such as thumb-sucking or bed wetting. They can also become excessively clingy or may withdraw from contact with others, avoiding any physical contact. These children may also experience abnormal trembling and often display bouts of crying, whimpering and screaming for no obvious reason.

They may also start wandering around aimlessly or refuse to walk and revert to being immobile. Children in this age group who have been exposed to domestic violence may also start acting out abusive behavior when playing with their toys. In this crucial developmental stage the child may experience difficulty in bonding with either one or both the parents which could result in an abnormal fear of being separated from one or both parents.

Children Between 6 - 12 Years Old

Children who have been exposed to domestic violence in the 6 - 11 year age range may also display regressive behavior although this is less common than in children under 5 years old. There is a high risk of them recreating this violent behavior when playing with peers and siblings. This results in outbursts of anger and frequent fighting. 

They tend to become disruptive and have problems with paying attention. Other common problems include sleeping problems,  nightmares, irrational fears, stress-related ailments, depression, anxiety, emotional numbing, feelings of guilt and schooling problems including truancy.

Children Imitate Our Behavior


The adolescent often feels that they are somehow to blame for the family's problems and may suffer extreme guilt over not being able to prevent its occurrence. Children in the 12 to 17 year age group tend to find it more difficult to put the experience behind them and often have flashbacks to the actual violent episodes. These may present themselves in nightmares.  The increased emotional stress often presents itself in stress-related ailments and poor academic results. There is a higher risk of substance abuse and other risk-taking behavior such as self-mutilation of eating disorders in these children.

They may also display anti-social behavior and become withdrawn even to the point where they isolate themselves from their peers. Depression is not uncommon and many of them display suicidal thoughts and at the other end of the scale they may experience emotional numbing.

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Other factors

Other factors that will influence these responses will include the child's personality and whether the child actually witnessed the violence or only heard it while in another room in the house.

Children who have a high self-esteem and an outgoing temperament as well as strong relationships with peers and siblings are less at risk of suffering the adverse affects of the exposure to domestic violence.

Other protective factors which can help children in these circumstances are a supportive relationship with an adult and social competence.

Research on Domestic Violence

There is a very real risk that these children may eventually become another victim of the violence if the abuser vents his anger on the child.In an effort to intimidate and hurt the abused partner the perpetrator may deliberately hurt the children. These assaults can be in the form of physical, emotional or sexual abuse. Often older children can suffer injuries during attempts by the child to intervene during a physical assault.

According to the findings conducted by Sheldon and Eleanor Glueck of Harvard in the late 1940s as presented in The Cambridge-Somerville Youth Study, the incidence of delinquent behavior was lower in broken homes without conflict than in intact homes that were characterized by a degree of conflict and neglect.

Women who stay in abusive relationships often stay for the sake of the children. According to this study you are doing your children more harm than good by exposing them to domestic violence.

More facts and figures on Domestic Violence

The Women's Rural Advocacy Programs describes the following facts concerning child and spouse abuse in the United States:

  • Almost 70% of the 900 children at battered women's shelters were either victims of physical abuse or neglect according to a recent study. Children from homes where domestic violence occurs are often seriously neglected due to the emotional state of the mother.
  • The rate at which children are physically abused or seriously neglected is 1500% higher than the national average in homes where domestic violence occurs. According to  Research by the U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect domestic violence may be the single major cause of child abuse and neglect in this country.
  • According to Lenore Walker's 1984 study mothers that were being physically abused were 8 times more likely to hurt their children than they would have had they been in a safe environment.
Image : Courtesy Dreamcatchersforabusedchildren

Image : Courtesy Dreamcatchersforabusedchildren

Through the Eyes of a Child

you wonder why

you wonder why i don't talk anymore
why i lie down in a heap on the floor
all curled up like a newborn baby would
and if i could tell you maybe i would

but the words don't want to come out
it started when i heard daddy shout
and beat you, and beat you, again and again
now i try to talk but its all in vain

you think i don't know what's going on
that i'm too small to know something is wrong
but i can see the tears running down your face
and i just want to be in a better place

where you hold me gently like you used to do
and you don't hurt when i try to touch you
where you play with me and you laugh again
is it my fault that you're feeling this pain

why else would you keep shutting me out
is it because i make daddy shout
doesn't daddy love us anymore
is that why you keep closing my door

or is it because you think i can't hear
when i hide under my bed and tremble with fear
the punches that fall again and again
and your voice as you shout and scream in pain

and you wonder why i don't talk anymore
and why i just lie in a heap on the floor
because mommy i'm too scared to talk to you
cos i love you mommy but i love daddy too

and  i can't understand, i don't know why,
why daddy does things that make you cry
but if i say i love him i'm scared you'll throw me away
that's why i don't talk - i don't know what to say.

Laura du Toit - 2009

More Hubs on Abusive Relationships

  • How to Prevent Domestic Violence
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  • What You Should Know About Physical Abuse
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  • Emotional Abuse
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Joanne1225 from Central Pennsylvania on December 30, 2011:

Laura - An excellent and exceptionally well-written, comprehensive, informative hub. It is a subject with which I am well-acquainted, with physical and verbal abuse until the age of 12, at which time the beatings stopped because I got on my knees and begged, and it worked! Later, I experienced invisible abuse - emotional and verbal, along with my young daughter.

Again, an exceptional article and the messages of the videos were heart-wrenching, and spot-on. You are making a difference!

sexyponkie on August 13, 2011:

Great hub. Children from abused homes become the abusers of tomorrow. This was the case of Chris Brown and Rihanna. Both came from abusive homes and though Rihanna thought she could deal with it, it got out of control. We learn two things from this.firstly children from abusive homes know abuse is wrong but it cannot stop them from inflicting the same pain on their future partners and sadly most women in these relationships have watched their mothers stay with their abusive fathers so much that these girls stay in abusive relationships because they think it is manageable but in some cases,the abusive partner takes it to far and kills the partner.

Laura du Toit (author) from South Africa on October 30, 2010:

Thanks for your comment sd. I am sure that this will help to make people realize how serious thi problem is and also that it is possible to walk away from these kinds of relationships and start a better life for both yourself and your children. Wishing you the best of luck, love and laughter in the years to come! Congratulations on your courageous and life-changing decision!

sd98 on October 30, 2010:

As a survior of domestic violence I have seen first hand what it does to the children. The last time I had my ex arrested was he assaulted me again in front of our girls. I stood up to him and charged him. I got the courage to do that from my girls. I had to show them it was wrong. My ex had a young friend which ends up was his mistress contact me when he was arrested. She blamed me and thought what I did was so wrong. She said I don't deserve him. I told her I did it for my children. Well this young girl bailed him out of jail. I feel bad for this young girl cause now they live together. If she thinks what he did was ok, then she doesn't know the truth. And if she thinks it won't happen to her she is in for a surprise. I spoke to him recently to try to sort out custody. I expressed my concerns how his abusive behavior is affecting the children. He said to me "I am not abusive because I just abuse you". I was shocked and scared cause he just doesn't get it. That was when I changed the access to supervised visits only and put a no contact order in place. Domestic violence is a family cycle. My ex had a troubled childhood and has carried it forward. I will not allow my children to be the next generation! Although it hasn't been long I already see great changes in the kids and I. We love, laugh and live again.

samboiam from Texas on April 17, 2010:

Thank you for drawing attention to domestic violence. We as a society can no longer look the other way. More has to be done to break the cycle.

I have linked this hub as well "How to Prevent Domestic Violence" and "What You Should Know About Physical Abuse"

to my latest hub "Stop Violence Against Women"

Laura du Toit (author) from South Africa on December 05, 2009:

Thanks for dropping in itcoll

Seems I missed the notification of your comment.

itcoll on November 25, 2009:

it spoils their childhood and makes them too dull.hope they come through everything and succeed in life.

Laura du Toit (author) from South Africa on November 10, 2009:

Thanks Tatjana-Mihaela

I certainly hope my article does inspire to make people in these situations take that step. If not for themselves then at least for their children.

Tatjana-Mihaela from Zadar, CROATIA on November 10, 2009:

This is excellent article, Laura. In the home full of violence, there is no love, no progress, no support, no anything, what would make children happy and emotionally healthy...only problems and traumas which is not easy to heal.

I hope, your targeted audience will understand that there is no other decision - then go away from violent partner and save the children from suffering and pain.

Laura du Toit (author) from South Africa on November 07, 2009:

Thanks prettydarkhorse

Let's hope we are successful in helping those that need the motivation to take that final step!

prettydarkhorse from US on November 07, 2009:

hi. Ms. Laura, this covers all, wow, you definitely have extensive knbowledge on the topic and I salute you for trtying to reached out to others who have sufferwed this kind of abuse

Laura du Toit (author) from South Africa on November 06, 2009:

NCWriterDK So sorry to hear about your tragic loss. I can imagine that trying to comprehend how people can expose their children to abusive behavior must be all the more difficult for you while carrying that pain in your heart.

I do intend to carry on trying to reach people in abusive relationships and if I can help one person it will all be worthwhile.

NCWriterDK on November 06, 2009:

Very in-depth and so right on. It is unfortunate that we have these type of subjects in this world today. Mankind has not been able to fix this type of violence and we see it everyday, every time we turn on the TV. I lost a son to diabetes and there is not a moment I wouldn't give to have him back to spoil him; the very thought that children are having to go through this at the hands of the adults that should protect them is unthinkable. We all need to be involved until the day comes that this is no longer a concern. Every child deserves a carefree childhood to enable them to grow up and enter society productively. Any type of abuse is not acceptable for anyone of any age. Please keep educating through your writings; you do it so well. Maybe someday we will all be able to break the cycle of abuse through education and caring.

Laura du Toit (author) from South Africa on November 04, 2009:

Thanks for the comment Quenby.

Why don't you join Hubpages - you have a lot to share and are an excellent writer. We could do with your input. Could not have said it better.

Thank you

Laura du Toit (author) from South Africa on November 04, 2009:

Thanks Sue -

According to the experts alcohol is not the cause of domestic violence although many abusers hide behind substance abuse as a cause. Substance abuse is a problem separate from abusive behavior which is a personality disorder. I do agree though that abuse escalates with the abuse of alcohol and other substances but cannot make a non-abusive person become abusive.

Quenby Wilcox on November 04, 2009:

While witnessing the abuse of a parent is terribly painful, what about child abuse. When a person is abusive, particularly psychologically abusive, the abuse falls on the children just as much if not more than on the children. How much of substance abuse, failure rates in schools, bullying in our schools, child run-aways, high teenage pregancy rates, or dysfuntional behavioural patterns are the direct consequense of parental abuse.

On a "Jerry Springer" type reality show focusing on adolescent girls who were having multiple sexual encounters per day with the express desire to become pregnant "in order to feel loved," as one girl testified. The presentator and her mother turned around and started shouting at her telling what a miserable, sorry excuse for a daughter she was?!?! The only productive thing about the entire show was that she had to take care of a real baby for 24 hours, and learned that it is hard work.

All my life I have been told by "loved ones" what a miserable excuse for a child, and person I was and am.

As a Jewish victim of the Holocaust said in regards to Nazi propoganda campaigns "When someone tells you that you are sub-human, ugly, stupid, worthless.... often enough and long enough, you start believing it."

Domestic psychological abuse uses the same tactics and rhetoric as any other forms of torture.

Until we realize this, and are willing to face the truth about the cause and effect between domestic abuse and our social problems, then we will never eradicate the cancers in our societies.

Many of our economic problems can be traced back to the scars of society’s antiquated “nurturing” techniques which teaches us that we are what we possess rather than what we do or accomplish. How much of our obsessive mass-consumption (and over-eating) are linked to making us feel better about ourselves in order to fill an empty void in our hearts and lives?

Quenby Wilcox

Juliette Kando FI Chor from Andalusia on November 03, 2009:

We should not forget that alcohol is the real culprit. That is what turns Jekyll into Hyde. There is a ban on drunk driving. Similarly there should be a ban on drunk dating and drunk copulating (breeding children who will become victims of domestic violence).

Laura du Toit (author) from South Africa on November 02, 2009:

Thank you MPM

If I could touch you then I am sure I will touch any mother who is allowing her child to be subjected to this type of emotional abuse. Children who are subjected to domestic violence are being emotionally abused and this is unforgivable.

ManlyPoetryMan from (Texas) Boldly Writing Poems Where No Man Has Gone Before... on November 02, 2009:

Laura: I like the way your poetry has a message to are quite gifted...and able to make it have strong meaning. I can't write this comment w/o getting upset at a child being abused by domestic violence...AAAGGGH! That is awful! This message of horrible is so hard to understand how someone could be like this with a child. Your poetry touches on the emotion of a child like she was sharing her thoughts out loud. And, how she thinks it is somehow her fault for some horrific is this? You made this seem very we knew who this child was and what they were thinking. Well done...Laura! I wish that your poem could be read out loud to all abusive parents...then maybe they could begin to realize the horribleness of what they have brought on an innocent child.

Laura du Toit (author) from South Africa on October 31, 2009:

Thank you Paradise

A comment like that coming from someone who has been subjected to this unforgivable pain means a lot to me.

Paradise7 from Upstate New York on October 31, 2009:

Good hub Laura. I see your theme and know it intimately, and you have the right way of presenting this material.

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