Family Law Library

How does family violence affect children?

Often family violence and the breakdown of a relationship go hand in hand. This connection manifests in one of two ways; either the violence was the reason for the relationship breakdown, or the violence starts happening as a result of the relationship breakdown. While violence is always devastating for the victim, bear in mind that it can also have an impact on your children.

Children can be exposed to violence several ways. They can witness violence happening between their parents, they can actually be the victims of violence, and they can hear the violence occurring. Sometimes children are involved indirectly, for instance in situations where the violence occurs while the child is being held by the victim.

Psychologists have found that children who are exposed to family violence frequently display the same symptoms as children who have been abused or neglected. Essentially, the negative consequences of exposing children to any degree of family violence are undeniable. This behaviour can hinder a child’s emotional development, and there are also cognitive and social ramifications as well. Studies have further shown that the longer the violence lasts, and the more sever the conflict, the more critical the impact will be on the child.

Some signs that a child could be suffering from the negative effects of family violence have been identified as follows:

  • Fear and terror from witnessing or being directly involved in the abuse
  • Problems with relationships (including parents and siblings) which can carry on to adulthood
  • Lack of motivation at school
  • Social withdrawal
  • Aggression towards peers
  • Low self-esteem
  • Alcohol and drug abuse problems
  • Suicide attempts

Another major way in which family violence impacts the child is the extent to which the mothers’ caregiving abilities have been limited as the result of being the victim of violence. Often domestic violence can reverberate around a family, causing the otherwise non-abusive parent to abuse the children, or causing children to abuse each other. Abuse is cyclical, the effects of which can truly be devastating.

So what can you do if you fear your child is being affected by violence at home? Often victims are so emotionally and physically fatigued that they are unable to help themselves, let alone give their children the attention they need. However, it is important to recognise that while your child may not be the direct victim of violence, they can still be harmed by it, and there are steps you can take to mitigate the harm suffered by the child.

  1. Remove the child (and yourself) from the violent situation. This is often easier said than done, but the sooner you can remove yourself and your child from the violence, the less severe the long-term impact will be.
  2. Seek help. If you are the victim of domestic violence, you and your child will need to seek help in the form of protection, as well as therapy. Even if you think you have shielded your child from the family violence, chances are they have been affected in some way.
  3. Get back to a normal routine. The sooner your child has settled back into a normal routine, the quicker the recovery process can begin. Make sure the child continues to attend school, participate in extra-curricular activities, and have outings with friends.
  4. Surround the child with family and friends. Family violence often results in children feeling isolated and lonely, and withdrawing from social interactions. If you put your child in an environment where he or she is frequently around loved ones, this since of loneliness can be mitigated and the child may be less inclined to withdraw socially.