Information on Abuse

The Impact When Children Witness Abuse

Children who witness violence are affected in a wide variety of ways:

  • Low self-esteem, a lack of self-confidence and insecurity are often the result of living in a violent home
  • Children do not feel safe in their homes
  • Most children, even very young children, are aware of violence in the home, even if they do not witness it firsthand
  • Feelings of responsibility, confusion, shame and anger are common
  • Boys who grow up in violent homes are at higher risk of being abusive to their partners in childhood
  • Girls who witnessed their mothers being abused may find it harder to leave an abusive adult relationship
  • Children may develop behaviors such as nightmares, sleep disturbances, and bedwetting
  • As children grow older, they may become depressed, withdrawn or passive, and experience feelings of hopelessness or powerlessness
  • Suicide, drug use and emotional problems are evident in some teens living in violent homes
  • Children living with violence often do poorly in school. They may have difficulty concentrating, frequent absences and behavioral difficulties
  • Children learn that violence is an accepted way for men to relate to women and to solve family problems

How to Help Children Who Witness Abuse

Not all children who witness family violence grow up to become abusers or abused. There are actions which can be taken to help break the cycle of violence:

  • The first step is to establish a safe environment for your child. Stability and structure must return to their lives so that they can continue to mature in a healthy fashion.
  • Understand that there is a reason for your child’s behavior, and acknowledge that in words for her. Children will work out reasons of their own for turmoil, often blaming themselves, unless you discuss what is going on.
  • Let your children know that the fighting is not their fault.
  • Give them permission to talk about the abuse. Information, and talking about feelings, helps to sort out what is going on. If you are not able to handle talking with your child, make sure she knows one or two other people that you feel comfortable having her talk to.
  • Help them to work out a safety plan: A safe place to go when there is fighting, numbers they can call, and make sure they know it is not safe to get in between fighting adults.
  • Acknowledge the mixed feelings they may have toward their dad; it is still okay to love him, and hate what he does.
  • Help your child to identify feelings other than anger, and help them find safe ways to express those feelings. Try to notice and comment on what your child is doing right.
  • Be as specific as you can about what is going to happen in everyday life. Children who live with abuse need information ahead of time about where they will be, and how long they will stay. If your child has a hard time separating from you, reassure him and tell him you will be safe and when you will be back.
  • Get support for yourself. It takes extra patience to cope with a child who s acting out because of witnessing abuse.