Effects of Domestic Violence on Children

Infants and Toddlers (0-2 ½ years)

  • Developmental delay
  • Failure to thrive – due to chaotic, loud and harmful environment
  • Emotional withdrawal/low frustration tolerance
  • Physical problems – frequent colds, ear infections, diarrhea

Pre-schoolers (3-6 years)

  • Developmental delay – especially in language development. The child may be afraid to speak, afraid of becoming the target of anger. This is due in part to not being spoken to by adults or experiencing meaningful discussions with adults.
  • Low frustration tolerance – Child cries easily and often. His/her world is so chaotic that she cannot handle ordinary stress. Usually has not witnessed appropriate ways of dealing with stress.
  • Act out aggressively toward peers and adults – modeling the aggressive behaviors observed at home
  • Emotional withdrawal – excessive thumb sucking, rocking, infant-like behaviors. The child is seeking safety and security by reverting to behaviors characteristic of a time when he/she felt insecure.
  • Inability to play constructively – lots of throwing or kicking, possible even destruction of playthings. Many children have not been shown how to play. Children are working out their frustration and worry in play.
  • Inconsistent or inappropriate display of emotions – the result of the child not learning appropriate emotional responses, as well as not being in touch with their true feelings.

School age child (7-11 years)

  • Scholastically delayed/poor school performance – child finds studying and learning difficult when he/she can’t keep from worrying about what happened at home last night or who is going to get hurt, maybe killed, later tonight
  • Behavior problems with peers and adults – because of a lack of observable appropriate interpersonal relationships, child has not learned appropriate ways to interact with others. Child may be crying out for help the only way they can and still keep the “family secret.”
  • Aggressive acting out becomes more severe and purposeful – modeling the violent behavior witnessed at home
  • Severe behavioral difficulties – culmination of low frustration tolerance.
  • Fearful/nightmares/night terrors – child reliving fears in his/her sleep. May be afraid to sleep because of incidents of physical and/or sexual abuse occur at night. May have history of being awakened by screams and yelling.
  • Withdrawn/depressed/hopeless/despondent – life offers little other than physical and/or emotional pain. Joy is lost.
  • Chronic physical complaints – headaches, stomachaches. Child knows no other way to realize or describe emotional distress. Stress level too high for child to cope.
  • Beginning to mimic adult roles – girls adopting the role of the victim; boys becoming aggressive, abusive.
  • Chronic low self-esteem – child blames him/herself for situation at home. Child’s good feelings about him/herself have not been nurtured.

Adolescence (12-17 years)

  • Depression – loss of hope, joy. Child is full of sadness.
  • Emotional neglect – by this time, the child has learned there is no one to listen or care, especially parents. Many children have abandoned efforts to reach parents.
  • Signs of physical injuries – maiming, crippling, scarring
  • Aggressions/delinquency/running away – realizing no one will take care of their needs except themselves, adolescents will use the only coping skills they have learned… violence and self-destruction.
  • Poor school judgment – academically and socially unable to perform
  • Proficient at mimicking adult roles – teenager carries role of victim or aggressor into interpersonal relationships outside the family
  • Early sexual activity/marriage – provides a means of escape or acting out
  • Death by suicide or murder – taking one’s own life to end the pain, or intervening to protect parent results in harm or death of child, or child killing abuser
  • Expansion of violence into the community – criminal activity sometimes through gang involvement where teen finds surrogate family. Anger and frustration spills over into community.