Domestic Violence & its Impact on Children Ages 0-5

Domestic violence affects every member of the family, including the children. Family violence creates a home environment where children live in constant fear. Children who witness family violence are affected in ways similar to children who are physically abused. They are often unable to establish nurturing bonds with either parent. Children are at greater risk for abuse and neglect if they live in a violent home. Statistics show that over 3 million children witness violence in their home each year. Those who see and hear violence in the home suffer physically and emotionally. Dynamics of domestic violence are unhealthy for children:
  • Control of family by one dominant member.
  • Abuse of a parent.
  • Isolation
  • Protecting the “family secret”.
Children react to their environment in different ways, and reactions can vary depending on the child’s gender and age. Children exposed to family violence are more likely to develop social, emotional, psychological and or behavioral problems than those who are not. Recent research indicates that children who witness domestic violence show more anxiety, low self esteem, depression, anger and temperament problems than children who do not witness violence in the home. The trauma they experience can show up in emotional, behavioral, social and physical disturbances that effect their development and can continue into adulthood.
Some potential effects: Indicators:

  • Grief for family and personal losses.
  • Shame, guilt and self blame
  • Anger
  • Confusion about conflicting feelings toward parents.
  • Fear of abandonment, or expressing emotions, the unknown or personal injury.
  • Depression and feelings of helplessness and powerlessness. Embarrassment.

  • Basic need for attachment is disrupted.
  • Routines around feeing/sleeping are disturbed.
  • Injuries while “caught in the crossfire.
  • Irritability or inconsolable crying.
  • Frequent illness.
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Diarrhea
  • Developmental delays
  • Lack of responsiveness

  • Acting out or withdrawing.
  • Aggressive or passive
  • Refusing to go to school.
  • Care taking; acting as a parent substitute.
  • Lying to avoid confrontation
  • Rigid defenses
  • Excessive attention seeking.
  • Bedwetting and nightmares.
  • Out of control behavior.
  • Reduced intellectual competency.
  • Manipulation, dependency, mood swings.

  • Somatic or psychosomatic complaints.
  • Regression.
  • Irritability.

  • Isolation form friends and relatives.
  • Stormy relationships.
  • Difficulty in trusting, especially adults.
  • Poor anger management and problem solving skills.
  • Excessive social involvement to avoid home.
  • Passivity with peers or bullying.
  • Engaged in exploitative relationships as perpetrator or victim.

  • Somatic complaints, headaches and stomachaches.
  • Nervous, anxious, short attention span.
  • Tired and lethargic
  • Frequently ill
  • Poor personal hygiene.
  • Regression in development.
  • High risk play. Self abuse.
Key aspects of Development: Potential Impacts:
Take in information from the world round them through their senses.

Form secure attachments.

Become more active explorers of their world and learn through play.

Learn about social interaction and relationships from what they hear and observe in their families.

Learn how to express aggression and anger, as well as other emotions, in appropriate ways.

Think in egocentric way.

Form ideas about gender roles based on social messages.

Increased physical independence (dressing self, etc.)

Loud noises and vivid visual images associated with violence can be distressing.

Parents may not be able to consistently respond to the infant’s needs which may negatively affect the parent-child bond.

Fear and instability may inhibit exploration and play; imitating in play may be related to witness aggression.

Learn about aggression in observed interactions.

Lean unhealthy ways of expressing anger and aggression; possibly confused by conflicting messages (e.g. what I see vs. what I’m told).

May attribute violence to something they have done.

Learn gender roles associated with violence and victimization.

Instability may inhibit independence; may see regressive behaviors.