“Some of the biggest victims of domestic violence are the smallest.”
Home is considered by children to be the safest place, but is it really? “As many as 275 million children worldwide are exposed to violence in the home”. Even though you might do your best to protect your children from what is happening and hope they don’t notice, it is impossible to hide everything from them- From 2005 onwards, under the Adoption and Children Act 2002 (UK) if a child now witnesses domestic violence they are also considered as being emotionally abused.
The different ways in which children can witness domestic violence are:
- By watching the perpetrator violently assaulting you, sometimes they can even be caught in the middle of an incident;
- By hearing the abuse happening in the room next door;
- By seeing the physical injuries following an incident of violence;
- And by being aware of the tension surrounding the perpetrator and you.
“Violent homes have the same effect on brains of children as combat does on soldiers.”
The impact of domestic abuse on children can be short term but sometimes they last into adulthood. If your child looks or acts a lot older or younger than their age, it could be a sign they’re being abused: check out “How to tell whether behaviour is normal for their age” guide (link to http://www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/child-abuse-and-neglect/domestic-abuse/signs-symptoms-effects/) if in doubt.
- Your children might sustain physical injuries which can result from direct assaults made by the perpetrator or as a result of intervening to protect you during the attacks. Worst case scenario, there is also a possibility that your children may be killed by the perpetrator.
Some physical symptoms that your children might exhibit, as a result of trauma and stress, are: develop eczema or stoma, experience stomach aches or bed-wetting, have nightmares, or suffer from sleep disturbances.
You children may feel guilty and responsible for the abuse that is happening and feel responsible for protecting you and other victims of the abuse. Research shows that children who have experienced domestic abuse also describe feelings of extreme sadness and experience low self-esteem and depression.
Outside the home, they might find it difficult to attend and concentrate at school. As a result, they may experience developmental delays in speech, motor or cognitive skills. Some studies show that they might even become socially isolated, which makes it difficult for them to make and keep friends.
- Some children experience “externalising problems” and might become self-injuring i.e. they become aggressive and may use violence to express themselves displaying increased aggression with peers and you, whilst other children experience “internalising problems” i.e. they become introverted or withdrawn.
They are also at high risk for drug and alcohol use, food addictions, teen pregnancy, homelessness, and suicide. Witnessing domestic violence is the single best predictor of juvenile delinquency and adult criminality.
It may be surprising to see that research shows that the majority of men who perpetrate domestic abuse grew up in a non-abusive environment. To date, there is no conclusive evidence to confirm whether children who have witnessed abuse will grow up to be perpetrators or victims of, domestic abuse in later life. Good news is that many such children do realise that it is wrong, and actively reject all kinds of violence.
“Myth: It is important to stay together for the sake of the children.
Fact: Children are not helped by living in a house where they are exposed to a father who hurts others.”
Be a positive role model- by taking action to live without violence. You might believe that it is best for your children if you try to keep the family together in order to provide the security of a home and father- despite the ongoing fear, and the emotional and physical abuse. However, children will actually feel more secure with one parent in a stable environment than with two parents when the environment is unstable and violent.
By having the courage to leave your partner who is violent, you show your children that:
- No one needs to put up with violence or abuse
- Everyone has a right to be safe
- You are deserving of respect and will not tolerate being disrespected by others.
For reasons of your and your children’s safety, it might be impossible to prepare your children in advance of a move but otherwise, please do so. Explain to them they are going somewhere safe, and let them know that they might not see their friends or pets again. Moving away will protect your child and give them a new start.
Most refugees have children’s support workers who will make your children feel safe and at home in the refuge. This can be a positive experience for your children as they will have the opportunity to meet other children in similar situations to their own, talk about their experiences with each other and begin to understand that they are not alone. Children’s activities organised by the refuge can be beneficial to you and your children- you will have time to consider your own options and discuss your plans with other adults while your children can be helped to come to an understanding of their situation and participate in supervised activities.
Do talk to your children and listen to them. You and other mothers might use silence or denial to try to cope with the abuse. But most children appreciate being able to talk about what is happening. Give them permission to tell and share their stories, even writing down what they are feeling and drawing pictures might help them. Remind them that the violence is not their fault, and it not their job to solve adult problems. Use a calm voice when talking to your children, especially in the aftermath of violence. Even though it might be tempting, do not make any promises you cannot keep or reassure them that everything will be alright: this will reduce your child’s trust in you later.
You could suggest that your children to look at the Women’s Aid website which has information, activities, a quiz and stories of children living with domestic violence, The Hideout: http://www.thehideout.org.uk/.
Remember you can get specific help from professionals how to talk to children who children about the violence they may have witnessed. Here is a guide (http://www.devon.gov.uk/talking_to_children.pdf), which can help you as a parent to talk to your children about domestic violence and abuse.
If your child becomes aggressive
Some women may be abused both by their partners and by their children. Boys in particular may copy their father’s behaviour, but if it’s ongoing, and particularly if your child is a teenager (or older), it is important to protect yourself and any other family members that may be harmed. Remember that it is not your fault and that the safety of you and the rest of your family is the most important. Abuse and aggression are not acceptable, no matter where they come from and it is necessary to seek help!
Nicky Stanley (2012) Research in practice. Children experiencing domestic violence: A Research Review. (Available from https://www.safeguardingchildrenbarnsley.com/media/15486/domestic_violence_signposts_research_in_practice_-_july_2012.pdf)
Unicef. Behind Closed Doors: The Impact of Domestic Violence on Children. (available from: http://www.unicef.org/media/files/BehindClosedDoors.pdf/)
Lisa Collins (2000). What Can I Do? Helping victims of Domestic Violence. (available from: http://www.literacy.kent.edu/Oasis/abuse/0300-23.pdf/)