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Domestic Violence and Children
What is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence, or intimate partner violence, is a pattern of abusive behaviors that is used by one partner to gain power and control over another intimate partner.  Domestic violence can include physical, psychological, verbal, financial, sexual, spiritual or emotional abuse.  Most often, children are aware of the abuse in the home and the effects can be traumatic and long-lasting.

Risks to Children

Children who are exposed to domestic violence are at an increased risk of being abused or neglected.  In fact, there is a strong connection between domestic violence and child maltreatment.  This means that if a parent or caretaker is being abused in the home, it is possible the children are being abused as well.   Children who live in a home with domestic violence are also at risk of being injured.  They may be injured directly or indirectly, such as objects being thrown or trying to help their abused parent during an act of violence. 

Impact on Children

Most often, children are aware of the abuse in the home and the effects can be traumatic and long-lasting.  Children often feel the impact of living with someone who is abusive and controlling.  They feel the tension in the home and may feel like they are “walking on eggshells.”   Children may hear the yelling, screaming and threats or see the physical abuse when it occurs and the injuries to the abused parent. It is important for children to understand that the violence in the home is not their fault.  Domestic violence is always the fault of the abuser and is a crime.

“The single best predictor of children becoming either perpetrators or victims of domestic violence later in life is whether or not they grow up in a home where there is domestic violence.”


Behind Closed Doors: The Impact of Domestic Violence on Children

Warning Signs

Children can be exposed or experience domestic violence in many different ways.  It’s important to remember that every child’s experience is different and their response to the violence may be different too.  Some warning signs in children are:

  • Frequent illnesses or other health problems

  • Sleeping problems

  • Excessive crying

  • Developmental delays

  • Shyness or withdrawn behavior

  • Reluctance to be touched

  • Aggressive behavior, excessive biting/hitting

  • Speech problems

  • Loss of skills such as toilet training

  • Increased aches and pains

  • Headaches or stomach aches

  • Stealing and lying

  • Nightmares

  • Depression

  • Self-abusive behaviors

  • Takes on parenting role

  • Eating disorders

  • Anger at siblings

  • Drug/alcohol use

  • Helplessness/

  • Sexual acting out

  • Violent relationships with others

  • Isolation

  • Suicide thoughts or attempts

  • Delinquent behavior

  • Run away from home

Childhood Trauma

The National Institute of Mental Health defines trauma as the experience of an event by a child that is emotionally painful or distressful which often results in lasting mental and physical effects.  When children witness violence between their adult caregivers or in their communities, or experience abuse or neglect, they start believing that the world is an unpredictable and threatening place.  Children living with domestic violence can suffer emotional and psychological trauma from the impact of living in an environment that is dominated by tension and fear. Trauma is not an event itself, but rather a response to a stressful experience in which a person’s ability to cope is dramatically undermined.  To learn more about childhood trauma, CLICK HERE.


It is important for victims of domestic violence to know that help is available.  Children can heal from the effects or trauma of domestic violence.  There are shelters for victims of domestic violence that provide temporary safe housing for the abused parent/caretaker and their children that offer counseling and other assistance.  To learn more about resources that are available or to get help, click on any of the links below:

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  • 1-800-25-ABUSE (1-800-252-2873)

  • If you suspect a child is in immediate danger or harm, call 911 first.

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