Dr. Willis Newman, Esmeralda Newman, bible-teaching-about.com

Risk factors of domestic violence on children who witness them

The following risk factors determine the severity of the above-mentioned impact of witnessing domestic violence on children.

Severity, duration and proximity of exposure. The length of exposure to domestic violence is also an important risk factor. “Children who showed high resiliency (eventually) succumb to a lengthy exposure to traumatic, violent episodes.” This exposes children to “ongoing, chronic, traumatic stressors (Graham-Bermann & Perkins, 2010, p. 436). 

The severity of the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder suffered by children who are exposed to domestic violence, depends largely on the “severity, duration and proximity” of their exposure to the traumatic or violent episodes (Groves, 1998, cited by Hornor, 2005, p. 210).  There are also studies proving that children who are exposed to, “multiple violent father figures,” have significantly more total behavioral symptoms than those exposed to domestic violence perpetrated by their father or a father figure (Israel & Stover, 2009, p. 1762). 

Children who witness only intermittent domestic violence by just one particular father or father figure, “benefit from periods of less stress and of relatively higher quality family functioning” (Martinez-Torteya, Bogat, von Eye & Levendosky, 2009, p. 573). 

Other risk factors. 

Other risk factors of domestic violence on children include, race, economic status, and incidents of being abused themselves. It has been found that white and African American children are more likely to have higher levels of depression and anxiety than those from other minority groups. Meanwhile, children from poor families show lower reliance than children from the middle and upper class families (Gerard & Buehler, 2004; Bradley & Corwyn, 2002, cited by Martinez ). Children who are physically abused as well, show more severe behavioral problems (Edleson, 1997, p. 12).


Children exposed to domestic violence use either the “emotion-focused” or “problem-focused” coping strategies to manage their pain. Emotion-focused coping strategies try to control their emotions by distracting themselves by listening to music, ignoring the problem, and refusing to talk about the problem. Those who use the problem-focused approach would directly attack the source of the stress or the problem itself. They may try to insert themselves between their feuding parents, assume the role of caregiver to their mothers. Younger children have less coping strategies than the adolescents who can walk away, calling the police, or even using drugs to alleviate their pain. 

Young children resort to turning their television volume up to drown the noise, inventing imaginary friends, or covering their ears to protect themselves from the realities of the violent altercations they witness or hear between their parents (Baker & Cuningham, 2009, p. 200). More children use the problem-focused strategy  (Peled, 1993; Folkman and Lazarus, 1980 as cited by Edleson, 1997, p. 14; Holt, Buckley & Whelan, 2008, p. 803).

Implications and Recommendations

Studies after studies report the egregious effect of long-term exposure to domestic violence necessitating early intervention.  However, in most cases, intervention only takes place when the abuse is reported by victims. Health care providers, such as doctors and nurses, including school nurses, who get involved in cases of severe physical trauma must be able to determine if domestic violence is involved in women and children they see. They must be well educated in domestic violence intervention, and be knowledgeable in referring the victims to the proper helping agencies in the community. If the children have been determined to be victims of abuse as well, they must report and refer them to the appropriate agencies including the Child Protective Services.

Victim’s advocates such as the YWCA’s victim’s prevention and intervention program, as well as the shelters for women and children victims of domestic violence must be aware of the impact of domestic violence on children who witness and live with it. also refer them victims and children to shelters. 

Care must be applied in determining whether mothers are also instrumental in harming children directly or indirectly. Usually, the mother is the only person these children are comfortable being and living with, especially mothers who are still able to effectively care for their children amidst their violent intimate relationships. Helping agencies must do all they can to teach proper parenting skills to the mothers. Health care providers, including mental health care providers and social workers also need to provide an environment where children exposed to domestic violence can be heard.  

There are studies suggesting that, “disclosure has a positive influence in the lives of trauma-exposed children.” Children who are able to talk about their experience had, “lower internalizing adjustment problems and had a greater understanding of the unacceptability of family violence following intervention,” even reducing, “anxiety, depression and traumatic stress’ (Barner & Camey, 2011, p. 1072).


Witnessing domestic violence is a traumatic and stressful event that has severe negative impact on the behavioral, cognitive, emotional, physical and social well being of children who witness it. Risk factors that affect the impact include the ability of mothers to parent, severity and duration of the exposure, children’s age, gender, ethnic background and socio-economic status. Not only are the negative impacts immediate, but life-long as well. Domestic violence exposure shape children’s belief system, and influence their abilities to establish and maintain relationships. They are also most likely use violence in the way they handle conflict.  

Health care providers must do all they can to determine if domestic violence is involved in the women and children they treat so that early intervention can be applied, may it be through the court system, protection services such as the women and children’ shelters, and/or other health providers. Mothers and children should be kept together as long as there are no indications that the mother is abusing the children, or that allowing children to stay with them is detrimental to the children’s well-being. Children must also be given the opportunity to talk about their experience in a safe environment, so as to give them the opportunity to be heard and validated. The problem of domestic violence and its impact on children who witness them need not be perpetuated into the lives of these children. It does not have to be as long as there is early intervention. 


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