Criminal Law - Effect of Domestic Violence on Children

All children, who live in homes where domestic violence is occurring, are affected by this experience. The children will be affected differently, based on:

Their age and interpretation of the experience,
How they have learned to survive and cope with stress,
The availability of friends, relatives, and other adults,
Their ability to accept support and assistance from adults.

The effect of this violence on children can be seen in many different ways. Each individual child will exhibit some of the following, and possibly exhibit different effects at different times:

Emotional

Feeling guilty for the abuse and for not stopping it
Grieving for family and personal losses
Confusion regarding conflicting feelings toward the parents
Fearful of abandonment, expressing feelings, the unknown, or personal injury
Angry about the violence and the chaos in their lives
Depressed, feeling helpless and powerless
Embarrassed about events at home

Cognitive

Believe they are responsible for the violence
Blame others for their own behaviors
Believe that it is acceptable to hit people they care for to get what they want, to express anger, to feel powerful, or to get others to meet their needs
Have a low self concept originating from a sense of family powerlessness
Do not ask for what they need, or what they want
Do not trust
Belief that feeling angry is bad because people get hurt

Behavioral (often seen in opposite extremes)

Acting out; withdrawal
Overachiever; underachiever
Refusing to go to school
Caretaking, more concern for others than self, parent substitutIon
Aggressive vs. passive
Rigid defenses (aloof, sarcastic, defensive, "black and white thinking")
Excessive attention seeking (often using extreme behaviors)
Bedwetting and nightmares
Out of control behavior, not able to set own limits or follow directions

Social

Isolated from friends and relatives
Relationships are frequently stormy, start intensely and end abruptly
Difficulty in trusting, especially adults
Poor conflict resolution and anger management skills
Excessive social involvement (to avoid home life)
May be passive with peers, or bully peers
Engage in exploitive relationships either as perpetrator or victim
Play with peers gets exceedingly rough

Physical

Somatic complaints (headaches, stomachaches)
Nervous, anxious and a short attention span (frequently mis-diagnosed as ADHD.)
Tired, lethargic
Frequently ill
Poor personal hygiene
Regression in development (bedwetting, thumb sucking)
Desensitization to pain
High risk play and activities
Self abuse


Batterer's Tactics During the Relationship

Battering the victim in front of the children
Threatening to hurt or kill the victim in front of the children
Telling the children that the victim is to blame for the violence and abuse
Justifying the violence to the children
Telling the children that the victim is a bad parent
Using other relatives to speak badly about the victim to the children
Yelling at the victim when the children "misbehave"
Getting the children to take the batterer’s side
Telling them that the victim is crazy, stupid, and incompetent
Abusing or killing the family pets
Using children as confidants
Threatening to commit suicide
Withholding money for children’s needs
Physically abusing the children
Threatening to take children if the victim leaves
Driving recklessly with the children or the victim in the car
Abusing drugs or alcohol in front of the children
Coming home intoxicated

Batterer's Tactics After Separation

Asking children what the victim is doing
Asking who the victim is seeing
Blaming the victim for the separation
Blaming the victim for the relationship ending
Telling the children that they cannot be a family because of the victim
Talking about what the victim did "wrong"
Calling constantly to talk to the children
Showing up unexpectedly to see the children
Criticizing the victim's new partner
Assaulting the victim's new partner
Withholding child support
Blaming the victim for the batterer's failure to pay child support
Showering children with gifts during visitation
Undermining the victim's rules for the children
Picking up the children at school without telling the victim
Keeping them longer than agreed on
Abducting the children
Threatening to take custody away from the victim for failure to reconcile with the batterer
Blaming the victim for their health and emotional problems
Telling them the victim is an alcoholic, addict, or mentally ill
Making frequent court dates to change the parenting plan
Saying the victim didn’t want them
Physically abusing them and telling them not to tell the victim
Abusing a new partner in front of them
Changing visitation plans suddenly
Domestic Violence
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Last Updated On: 3/5/01