many as 10 million children witness domestic violence each
year. 1 Several studies have found that in 60% to 75% of families
in which a woman is battered, the children are also battered.
In fact, child abuse is 15 times more likely to occur in families
where there is domestic violence. Violence in the home affects
children, whether or not they are abused directly.
assume responsibility for the abuse and blame themselves.
A typical statement is: “if
I had just been a good boy or girl….”
Anxiety: Children are constantly anxious
and/or afraid in anticipation of the next abusive incident.
Transfer of Anxiety from Mother to Child: Children
sense the fear and trauma that their mothers have experienced
even if they can’t verbalize these feelings. Children
will express this anxiety in a variety of ways.
Guilt: Children think they should have been
able to prevent the violence and feel guilty for not doing
Grief: When the mother
leaves the abuser, the children may grieve over the “loss” of
that parent and even the lifestyle they formerly lived.
Confusion: Children may not know how they
feel or have two opposite emotions at the same time. This is
difficult for them. They may love the abuser but hate what
he is doing to their mom.
Fear of Abandonment: Children who have been
separated from one of their parents because of the violent
acts may be fearful that the other parent will also leave or
Need for Adult Attention: Children who have
been traumatized require intense attention to minimize their
fears. If they do not receive this attention, they may act
Lack of Trust: Children may have difficulty
forming relationships. They may come to believe that violence
is an inevitable or acceptable part of a relationship.
Aggressiveness/Passiveness: Children who
witness violence in the home may become violent at school or
in the community. Some children become overly passive and eager
to please any adult.
Depression: Children may feel overwhelmed
by the violence and hopeless about the future. In some cases,
children become suicidal.
1 Research data drawn from “The Impact
of Violence on Children” by Joy D. Osofsky, published
in The Future of Children: Domestic Violence and Children,
S tay out of the fight. Help children understand
that trying to protect a victimized parent is not safe.
A void getting trapped in a small room or
closet, or in the kitchen where there are sharp objects that
may become weapons.
F ind a phone out of reach or out of sight
of the batterer. Call 911 to get help, then stay on the phone.
Help children practice what to say and make sure they know
E scape to a safe place – like a neighbor’s
house – and ask for help. Tell children to go somewhere
else if they don’t get help right away.