Impact of Domestic Violence on Children
Supporting Children Who Witness Violence
15.5 million U.S. children live in families in which partner violence occurred at least once in the past year, and seven million children live in families in which severe partner violence occurred.
We can not address domestic violence without understanding its impact on children and youth. All aspects of a child’s life are affected when a child grows up in a violent home. Domestic violence can make children less likely to succeed in school, more likely to suffer and commit violence, and more likely to face a host of health problems that can last throughout their lives. While it is widely recognized that domestic violence can cause great harm to women, too little attention has been paid to the harm suffered by millions of children and youth exposed to domestic violence. As a result, our nation fails to give children who grow up in violent homes the assistance and support they need.
Current research indicates that domestic violence affects children and youth in a variety of ways and that the effects are both short and long term (Jaffe, Wolfe, and Wilson, 1990). Children may be physically, emotionally and cognitively damaged as a result of domestic violence. The nature and extent of harm will vary depending primarily on three factors:
- The type and history of abusive control used by the perpetrator
- The age, gender and development stage of the child
- Situational factors, such as other social supports.
- Healing begins with compassionate, healthy, loving relationships. A nurturing relationship with a supportive adult is the most powerful tool we have to help children heal from traumatic events.
- Help children know what to expect. Offer a structured environment where children can predict what will come next, i.e. a routine.
- Give children permission to tell their stories. It helps children to be able to talk about the violence in their lives with trusted adults.
- Give parents help and support. Help parents and other caregivers understand that young children think differently than adults and need careful explanations about scary events.
- Foster children's self-esteem. Children who live with violence need reminders that they are lovable, competent and important.
- Teach alternatives to violence. Help children learn conflict resolution skills and about non-violent ways of playing.
- Model nurturing in your interactions with children. Serve as role models for children by resolving issues in respectful and non-violent ways.
- Don't try it alone. Identify and collaborate with other caregivers and agencies in the child's life.
- Take care of your own physical and emotional needs. Discuss concerns and issues with a supervisor or supportive colleague.
- When Dad Hurts Mom, Helping Your Children Heal the Wounds of Witnessing Abuse by Lundy Bancroft (2004)
- Helping Children Thrive: Information for Mothers who have left Abusive Relationships by Linda Baker and Alison Cunningham (2004)
Both of these resources are available in the Coalition library, go to our materials and publications page for more information on how to access them.
*Information on this page was adapted from the websites of Jane Doe Inc. and the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence