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Effects of children

Children are completely dependent on the adults around them, and if they do not feel safe in their own homes, this can have many negative physical and emotional effects. All children witnessing domestic abuse are being emotionally abused, and this is now recognised.

Children can witness domestic abuse in a variety of ways. They may be in the same room and may get caught in the middle of an incident, perhaps in an effort to make the abuse stop; they may be in another room but be able to hear the abuse or see their parents physical injuries following an incident of violence; or they may be forced to take part in verbally abusing the victim.

Children will react in different ways to being brought up in a home with a violent person. Age, race, sex, culture, stage of development, and individual personality will all have an effect on a child's responses. Most children, however, will be affected in some way by tension or by witnessing arguments, distressing behaviour or assaults - even if they do not always show this. They may feel that they are to blame, they may feel angry, guilty, insecure, alone, frightened, powerless, or confused. They may have ambivalent feelings, both towards the abuser, and towards the non-abusing parent.
 
These are some of the effects of domestic abuse on children:

  • They may become anxious or depressed.
  • They may have difficulty sleeping.
  • They may have nightmares or flashbacks.
  • They may complain of physical symptoms such as tummy aches.
  • They may start to wet their bed.
  • They may have temper tantrums.
  • They may behave as though they are much younger than they are.
  • They may have problems at school, or may start truanting.
  • They may become aggressive.
  • They may internalise their distress and withdraw from other people.
  • They may have a lowered sense of self-worth.
  • Older children may start to use alcohol or drugs.
  • They may begin to self-harm by taking overdoses or cutting themselves.
  • They may develop an eating disorder.

Abuse and violence may also interfere with your children's social relationships: they may feel unable to invite friends round (or may be prevented from doing so by the abuser) out of shame, fear, or concern about what their friends may see. They may feel guilty, and think the abuse is their fault, or that they ought to be able to stop it in some way. There can be an impact on school attendance and achievement: some children will stay home in an attempt to protect their parent, or because they are frightened what may happen if they go out. Worry, disturbed sleep and lack of concentration can all affect school work.

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