The Effects of Intimate Partner Violence on Children
Witnessing intimate partner violence (IPV) in the household can have a significant impact on the emotional and physical wellbeing of children. They often feel a sense of shame or guilt that they are unable to stop the violence from happening. In some cases, they may have a mistaken belief that they cause the violence to happen in some way.
It is normal for a child who has witnessed IPV to show a variety of symptoms in response to the trauma. Some common responses can be seen below. Many can be observed in opposite extremes.
- Frequent headaches, stomachaches, or other physical complaints
- Bedwetting and nightmares
- Fatigue and lethargy
- Poor personal hygiene
- Desensitization to pain
- Shame, guilt and self-blame – “I caused it” or “I should have been able to stop it”
- Grief for family and personal losses
- Confusion about conflicting feelings toward parents
- Fear of abandonment, of expressing emotions, of the unknown, and/or personal injury
- Anger about violence and the chaos in their lives
- Feelings of depression, helplessness and powerlessness
- Embarrassment related to the dynamics at home
- Uncertainty about what’s real
- Anxiety that ordinary arguments will become scary
- Aggression or withdrawal
- Overachievement or underachievement
- Refusal to go to school
- Parentification, more concern for others than self
- Avoiding confrontation by lying or pretending everything is OK
- Rigid defenses (aloof, sarcastic, defensive, “black and white” thinking)
- Out of control behavior, inability to set limits or follow directions
- Manipulation, dependendency, mood swings
- Developmental regression (thumb sucking, etc.), depends on age
- Abusive towards self: eating disorders, substance abuse, suicide
- Short attention span - frequently misdiagnosed ADHD
- Isolation from friends and relatives or strong craving for adult approval
- Relationships are frequently stormy, start intensely and end abruptly
- Difficulty trusting others, especially adults
- Poor anger management and problem solving skills
- Avoid home life through excessive social involvement (extracurricular activities, refusing to go home)
- Passive towards peers or bullies
- Play with peers gets exceedingly rough
Additionally, children may show different symptoms depending on their developmental stage. These examples may not apply to all children in all situations.
|Behavioral||Infants/Toddlers: Being fussy||Preschoolers: Increased aggression and/or impulsive behaviors||School Age: Being aggressive or very withdrawn, conduct problems, disobedience||Adolescents: Antisocial behavior, delinquency, running away, extreme behaviors|
|Emotional||Infants/Toddlers: Crying, intense separation anxiety||Preschoolers: Intense anxiety, worries, and/or new fears, sadness, PTSD, inconsolable crying||School Age: Fear and anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, guilt, shame, PTSD||Adolescents: Depression, anxiety, anger, suicidal, embarrassed about home, PTSD|
|Physical||Infants/Toddlers: Problems with sleeping and/or eating, growth stunts||Preschoolers: Highly active, demanding, whiny, clingy||School Age: Nightmares, sleep disruptions, physical complaints such as stomachaches or headaches||Adolescents: Nightmares, poor hygiene, frequently ill, substance abuse, eating disorders|
|Cognitive||Infants/Toddlers: Difficulty with learning and understanding, poor language acquisition||Preschoolers: Loss of acquired skills, self-blame, limited understanding||School Age: Difficulty with concentration and task completion (especially in school), pro-violent attitudes, self-blame||Adolescents: Pro-violent attitudes, difficulty trusting people|
|Social||Infants/Toddlers: Biting, hitting||Preschoolers: Trouble interacting with peers and adults, ambivalent relationship with caregiver(s)||School Age: Fewer and lower quality peer relationships, avoiding school and/or truancy||Adolescents: Involved in violent or abusive relationships, lying to avoid confrontation|
Even though the effects of domestic violence on children can be severe, the impact can be reduced through a number of strategies:
- Ensure their immediate safety. Limit their exposure to violence as much as possible.
- Consider professional counseling. Catalyst provides free, confidential counseling to children who have witnessed IPV at home. To learn more about these services, visit our counseling page or call 530-343-7711.
- Promote resiliency. Children who have experienced trauma often feel fearful and unsafe, both physical and emotionally. Click here for strategies you can use to offer support to your child.