Impact on Children
In spite of their parents’ attempts to shield their children from the violence in the family, children usually know it is occurring and are affected by it. It often threatens their sense of stability and security, and their reaction is expressed in different ways; for example, some children become clingy and others more withdrawn. Being exposed to domestic violence after their parents separate can cause short- and long-term emotional, behavioural, and developmental problems such as anxiety, violence to others, developmental delays, irregular school attendance, and inappropriate sexual behaviour. As they grow up, children may also copy their parents’ pattern in their own relationships, thus continuing the cycle of violence.
For more information about the impact of abuse on children, click on the following:
Watching, hearing, or knowing their mother is being abused may threaten children’s sense of stability and security.
• Children may have emotional and behavioural difficulties
• Children may have flashbacks, nightmares and constant or extreme worry about possible danger
• Children living with domestic abuse are at higher risk of experiencing physical injury or physical
and emotional abuse
• Children may experience strong mixed feelings toward their violent parent so that affection exists
along with feelings of resentment and disappointment.
The effects of violence, verbal abuse, and victim blaming may cause children to see their mother as helpless, downtrodden, stupid and unworthy of respect.
• Children may see her as an acceptable target of abuse.
• Children may assume the role of the abuser and be violent towards the mother, sometimes to
win the approval of the absent father. This is more common in boys and most often after separation.
The children may be used by the abuser to hurt or manipulate the mother.
The abuser may vie for children’s loyalty by making his home a fun place with no rules, permit activities disapproved of by the mother (such as junk food or violent videos), and try to turn the children against their mother.
The abuser may interfere with the mother/child relationship by keeping the mother from comforting a distressed child or stop the children from participating in extra-curricular activities to keep the mother socially isolated.
The abuser may blame the mother for the separation and get a child to pressure the mother to get back together, or use a child to communicate with or spy on the mother.
Children may copy what they learn from their parents.
• use violence and threats to get what they want
• learn that people do not get in trouble when they hurt others
• believe men are in charge and should control women’s lives
• believe that women don’t have the right to be treated with respect
Children who are exposed to violence may be desensitized to aggressive behaviour. When this occurs young people see aggression as normal and are less concerned by it.
Boys and teenagers of either sex are more likely to resent the mother or feel ashamed to be associated with her.
The abuser may cause family members to turn against each other or gang up on each other by favouring one child over others, lying, revealing secrets, causing conflict, or punishing all children for the misbehavior of one.
Children of abused mothers may display numerous kinds of difficulties.
• physical complaints (headaches, stomach aches, eczema, bed-wetting, tiredness)
• constant worry about possible danger or safety of family members (for example, checking on
sisters or brothers, phoning home, locking doors)
• sadness or withdrawal from people and activities
• low self-esteem and lack of confidence, especially for trying new things
• difficulty paying attention in class, concentrating on work, and learning new information
• outbursts of anger directed toward self or others
• bullying or aggression directed toward others
Abuse affects children differently depending on their age.
From birth to two years children exposed to family violence may have attachment problems; failure to thrive; risk of being “caught in the crossfire” during attack on mother; predisposition to impulsive, reactive, and violent behaviour
Preschoolers: Imitation of violent behaviour; clinginess and anxious attachments to mother; negative moods; difficult to manage; nervousness
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