The Effects of Domestic Violence on Children
About 1 in 5 children have been exposed to domestic abuse (NSPCC). This has a serious impact on children’s mental health and behaviour. Witnessing domestic violence can lead to poor educational performance, social exclusion, juvenile crime, substance misuse, and mental health problems in children. If a child is so distressed that he or she runs away, it can also lead to homelessness. Children who witness domestic violence are likely to experience PTSD symptoms as well.
In over 50% of domestic violence cases that have been reported, children were directly abused (NSPCC). 90% of children living in violent households directly witness violence (Abrahams). More than 800,000 children in the UK are suffering from mental health issues, and domestic violence is a major factor (Bodkin).
Domestic violence affects various age groups in different ways. Younger children are prone to becoming anxious as a result of living in a violent household. For example, they may begin to get stomach aches, wet the bed, have temper tantrums, or experience separation anxiety when starting at nursery or school. Young children may experience age regression as well.
Older children experience different symptoms that differ by gender. Boys are more likely to become aggressive and disobedient, or even mirror the behaviour they have witnessed and use violence to try to solve problems. This means that they are more likely to be violent towards women in the future. They are also prone to substance misuse. Girls, on the other hand, are more likely to internalise their problems. They might isolate themselves and become anxious or depressed, have lower self-esteem, and are prone to eating disorders and self-harm. They are also more likely to choose abusive partners (RC Psych).
Children who witness domestic violence are also likely to do poorly in school. They may be unable to concentrate because of the problems going on at home, and may skip school more frequently if they are worried about an abused parent at home. They also may experience PTSD symptoms, such as flashbacks, nightmares, and physical pains.
The issues children face as a result of witnessing domestic violence often carry into adulthood. Some children may be prone to anxiety or depression or grow up to be in abusive relationships. Children who grew up in violent households do not always end up in violent relationships themselves, but they are much more likely to. It is important that children and their emotional trauma are not overlooked in domestic violence cases. Providing affected children with the proper resources is a crucial step to ensure that the cycle of domestic abuse does not continue.