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

How domestic violence
impacts children

There are numerous research and studies made to ascertain the effects of witnessing domestic violence by children. These studies prove that indeed there are short term and long term effects in the children’s physical, cognitive, behavioral, educational, developmental, and social functions. Witnessing domestic violence also impacts the children’s relationship with both their mothers and fathers, or father figures. 

Immediate impact. Children are immediately impacted by the violence they hear or witness while it is occurring. They get scared that one of the adults will get hurt or die, and they also feel guilty and helpless for not being able to stop them from hurting each other.  Children also struggle with “divided loyalties and anger at their mother for not leaving” (Saunders, 1994, p. 51).  Young children who do not yet have the ability to verbalize, “Act out, cry, resist, comforting, or become despondent” (Baker & Cunningham, 2009, p. 201). 

Physical impact. Physical harm resulting from domestic violence include injuries suffered “prenatally and postnatally” (Christian, Scribano, Seidl and Pinto-Martin 1997, cited by Hornor, 2005, p. 207).  There are many high profile cases of pregnant wives or girlfriends killed by their husbands or boyfriends such as Lori Hacking of Utah, and Laci Peterson of California. Likewise, women report that their batterers are jealous of the attention they give to their children, and do everything they could to disrupt or prevent them from spending time with their children (Mullender et. al., cited by Thiara, 2011, p. 168). 

Infants have erratic sleeping and feeding patterns, “and poor weight gain,” and they tend to be “slow in reaching developmental milestones” (Knapp, 1998, p. 207).  Children below two years old are most likely to get hit while in the arms of their mothers, while some 39% get hurt while trying to protect or stop adults who are fighting.  About 40% actually become victims of physical abuse from those who perpetuate the violence, and victimized mothers are found to also physically abuse their children (Christian et. al. as by Hornor, 2005, p. 207). For preschoolers, “extreme fear may result in psychosomatic problems such as headaches, stomach aches and asthma, as well as insomnia, nightmares, sleepwalking and enuresis (Holt, Buckley & Whelan, 2008).

Impact on emotional and social functioning. Children exposed to violence had been found to have less ability to “regulate negative emotions, have more difficulty soothing themselves, and need more external support” (Katz, Hessler, & Annest, 2007, cited by Rigterink, Fainsilber & Hessler, 2010, p. 1672). These children are found to be more anxious, have poor self-esteem, and other temperament problems than those who were not exposed. They also show less ability to empathize, and how to understand situations from other people’s perspective (Edleson, 1997, p. 9). Children’s ability, “to solve social problems is also impaired” (Saunders, 1994, p. 52).

Impact on behavior. One of the most common testing used to measure externalizing behavior is the Child Behavior Checklist. Children who experience or witness violence given this test exhibit more antisocial behavior and aggressive behavior, plus "fearful and inhibited behaviors” compared with children who live in a more stable and peaceful home environment (Christopherpoulos et al., 1987; Davis & Carlson, 1987; Fantuzzo et al., 1991; Holden & Ritchie, 1991; Hughes, 1988; Hughes, Parkinson & Vargo, 1989; Jaffe et al., 1986; Jouriles, Murphy & O’Leary, 1989; Kerouac, Taggart, Lescop & Fortin, 1986; Stagg, Wills & Howell, 1989; Wolfe et al., 1985, cited by Edleson, 2009, p.9). They also exhibit negative internalizing behaviors like terror, fear of death, fear of loss of parent, as well as feelings of rage, guilt, and a “sense of responsibility” (Groves. 1999, cited by Hornor, 2005, p. 209).

Impact on cognitive functioning. Studies show that children who lived in violent homes have lower IQ (Rigterink, Fainsilber & Hessler, 2010, p. 1670). They also show “lower verbal and quantitative skills compared to the national sample“(Edleson, 1997, p. 12).  School age children underperform in school and often complained of headache and stomach aches (Mahoney and Campbell, 1998 as cited by Hornor, 2005, p. 208) while adolescents, battle feelings of “rage, shame, betrayal” and have more problem with truancy, dripping out of school and involvement in drug and alcohol abuse, running away and loss of impulse control (Hornor, 2005, p. 208).

Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is “an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened” (NIMH, 2011, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder segment, par. 1).  The mental symptoms include reliving the traumatic events, nightmares, flashback, and even feeling as if the event is recurring. Sufferers avoid “stimuli associated with the trauma” (Hornor, 2007, p. 209). The severity of the PTSD is dependent upon the “severity, duration and proximity,” to the trauma (Groves, 1999, cited by Hornor, 2007, p. 209). Graham-Bermann and Levendosky (1998) found, “significant PTSD symptoms in school-aged children exposed to domestic violence, with 13% to 19% meeting full criteria for the disorder” (Israel, Stover, 2009 p. 1756).

Long term impact.  Several research materials show that women who witness violence as children, report struggling with depression, low self-esteem, showed greater distress and lower adjustment than those who live in normal homes. Boys who grow up in violent homes showed more post traumatic disorder symptoms as adults. These boys also perpetuate the use of violence in their adult relationships. In fact, findings by Rosenbaum and O’Leary (1981, cited by Edleson, 1997, p. 11) indicated that “male batterers in their study were much more likely than others to have grown up in homes where adult domestic violence was occurring.”  Another studies indicate that “batterers who were abused as a child were more likely to abuse their own children” (1997, p. 11).

Relationship with parents. Children, whose parents use violence to resolve conflict, understandably have a less than normal parent-child relationship. A comprehensive study made by Guille (2004) to determine the quality of relationship between fathers who batter their mothers and the children indicate that most of these men apply a negative parenting style: “overcontrolling and authoritarian, and less consistent,”and they tend to be “poor role models with regard to relationships and conflict resolution (Guille, 2004; Bancroft and Silverman, 2002, cited by Holt, Buckley and Whelan, p. 801).

A study on the mental health needs of children exposed to domestic violence indicate that parents involved in domestic violence “reported more psychopathology” (Olaya, Ezpelata, dela Osa, Granero, Domenech, 2010, p. 1004). Fathers were said to be more physically abusive toward their children and less caring (Olaya, et. al., 2010, p. 1004). Women report that their batterers are jealous of the attention they give to their children, and do everything they could to disrupt or prevent them from spending time with their children (Mullender et. al., cited by Thiara, 2011, p. 168). Others verbally abuse and criticize them in front of children (Richards, 2003, cited by Thiara, 2011, p. 168), which are all aimed at damaging children’s perception of their mothers, and hurting their relationship with their mothers. 

Meanwhile, mothers are reported to favor boys, be more punitive towards their daughters, and apply a parenting style “characterized by rejection, low emotional warmth and less control” (Olaya, et.al., 2010, p. 1004).

Next: Risk Factors

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