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Domestic Violence and its Effects on Children

Children living in an environment where domestic violence takes place are the silent victims of abuse; even when they are not the target of the violence. Almost all children are aware of violence taking place in their home, no matter if the incidents of abuse occur when the parents believe that the children are sleeping or out of sight. The children in such households are affected by this violence in many ways, and witnessing domestic violence can cause children to experience and feel, in their own ways, many of the same feelings adult victims do.

Children may experience some or all of the following emotions:

Fear At fault or responsible for the abuse Helplessness
Anger Guilt for loving the abusive parent Anxiousness
Numbness Guilt for not protecting abused parent Sadness
Confusion Concern about the future Powerlessness
Insecurity Fearful of losing a parent  

Children are also likely to be traumatized by the violence that they see and/or endure at home, and if not allowed to process their feelings, they may come to some of the following conclusions based on what they observe:

I am not responsible for my disobedient behavior Women have no rights
I am responsible for my parent’s fights or arguments My parent (the victim) can’t protect me
Men have the right to control/discipline women I am never safe and I shouldn’t trust anyone
Using violence to solve problems is OKAY Domestic violence is normal
The abused parent causes and deserves the abuse by the other parent I can get what I want by using intimidation
It’s okay for me to abuse my parent too Other people have the right to abuse me

Children may act out in many different ways when they don’t get the opportunity to express their feelings in a safe and healthy setting. Some children will act out only after they feel safe enough and not afraid of the violent parent (i.e. once a victim leaves the abuser or goes to a shelter). Following are some example of how children might act out:

Some of the information on this page was adapted from Meg Crager and Lily Anderson’s Helping Children Who Witness Domestic Violence: A Guide for Parents.