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Impacts Of Domestic Violence On Children’s Health

Updated on May 8, 2016

Domestic Violence

DV is Patterned Behavior
DV is Patterned Behavior | Source

Background

Domestic violence (DV) is a pattern of controlling behavior that involves abuse by one family member or intimate partner to another (e.g., marriage or cohabitation).

There are varied forms of DV that range from subtle, coercive forms, to violent abuses, which can result in death.

DV affects humans of all age groups, worldwide.

It takes place in various relationships, such as heterosexual or LGBTQI relationships and it can also be directed toward children in the family.

The impacts of DV on the health of children can be detrimental.

Family Violence

A family is traditionally expected to accept, love, nurture, and support each respective member.

Nevertheless, in many societies, family relationships can become most violent.

Husband beating occurs in approximately 27% of the world’s societies; meanwhile, wife beating occurs in nearly 85%.

And, at least 3.3 million children are at risk of DV exposure yearly.

Children usually witness violence against their mothers committed by other family members.

It’s suggested, however, that offspring violence (e.g., physical violence between siblings) may be the most common form of family violence.

Various forms of DV within the home have been documented.

It is often thought about in terms of physical violence but can also be characterized by psychological assault, emotional and verbal abuse, as well as sexual violence.

Other forms of DV include economic control/financial abuse, such as “withholding money from the victim, controlling the entire household bills and expenditure”.

Nevertheless, physical abuse is the form that most commonly applies when dealing with DV issues.

In regards to children, it requires tremendous effort to safeguard them from any form of violence within the home.

Children are constantly overexposed to violent behaviors via TV, video, computers, and other forms of mass media, which can lead toward negative outcomes.

Children may view family violence as the norm given that it is socially promoted (e.g., The Simpsons).

Children are especially vulnerable if they use such violent programming as a means of numbing or avoidance.

For instance, they might experience negative effects, such as antisocial behaviors or nightmares containing violent TV characters (e.g., Homer Simpson strangling his son Bart).

And, in worst environments, children also fall victim to the violence perpetuated within their homes, similar to their favorite fictional characters.

DV in Cartoons

Drawing

Kids may illustrate what they have witnessed if they cannot express themselves verbally.
Kids may illustrate what they have witnessed if they cannot express themselves verbally. | Source

Responses to DV & Risks

There are various responses that children have to DV exposure.

A child's response to domestic violence exposure may be dependent on his or her individual experiences and circumstances”.

Some children will display fright (e.g., cry or scream); meanwhile other children may attempt to intervene by stopping the violence physically or ordering the abuser to cease.

There are many children that will retreat from DV exposure (e.g., hide in another room or run away from home).

And, there are other children who will simply ignore their surroundings (e.g., turn the TV volume up to tune the violence out).

Each child has a unique experience in relation to DV exposure.

Children who are exposed to DV by their parents within the home are believed to be at an “increased risk for a variety of behavioral, educational, physical, psychological, and social problems”.

Some of the effects that DV exposure has on children include characteristics of trauma, distress, and adjustment problems.

Many children will either develop “violent behaviors or submissive responses”, which can potentially make them targets for abuse in other stages of life.

Other issues may impact children’s health later in life as a response to early DV exposure.

According to a population-based study, “substance use was a risk factor for, and effect of, PTSD and all forms of violence, especially repeated violence and childhood trauma”.

Childhood Trauma

Children Who Experience Early Childhood Trauma Do Not 'Just Get Over It
Children Who Experience Early Childhood Trauma Do Not 'Just Get Over It | Source

Contributing Factors

There are many factors that contribute to the issue of DV.

Some predisposing factors include “giving men rights over women, accepting violence as a means of resolving conflict, women's dependence on men, and low literacy”.

Other factors, such as depression and substance abuse, can also increase an individual’s risk of DV.

For children, vicarious trauma induced by violence can factor into negative outcomes as well.

For instance, a child may experience secondary traumatic stress via their parent who is suffering from PTSD.

This type of dynamic interplay can cause considerable damage to families and affect larger populations.

Many DV victims must choose between their abusive relationships and homelessness due to current poverty.

It has been stated that, “50% of the cities surveyed by the U.S. Conference of Mayors identified domestic violence as a primary cause of homelessness”.

Multiple moves induced by DV can hinder children from establishing a secure base.

This homelessness issue also suggests larger problems associated with DV on a macro level (e.g., social acceptance of maltreatment and violence).

Theoretical perspectives may be helpful for understanding these factors that contribute to DV, such as the ecological perspective.

In terms of homelessness, a parent may make multiple moves to seek a better “goodness of fit” for their family.

But, this may create new imbalances between the child’s needs and the new environment’s resources.

Using the ecological perspective, this illustrates a parent’s bi-directional influence on their children.

The instability could inadvertently result in accumulated stress and negative health outcomes for the child.

What Children Witness Effects Them

All children will respond differently to DV exposure
All children will respond differently to DV exposure | Source

Quick Poll

Did You Know That DV Impacts Children?

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DV: Harmful to Children

Asocial
Asocial | Source

DV Hurts Children Too

Parents become preoccupied and neglectful
Parents become preoccupied and neglectful | Source

Babies: Unable To Verbalize Feelings

Health Outcomes

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center Injury Prevention and Control indicated that exposure to violence, as a child, factors into negative health outcomes as an adult.

These negative health outcomes include depression, eating disorders, substance abuse, and susceptibility to chronic diseases, among others.

Studies have found brain chemistry changes in children who have been chronically exposed to DV.

Children might also be victimized or adversely affected in other ways by DV exposure.

Some children may experience issues with social functioning (e.g., inability to establish stable relationships with peers or inability to focus in class).

Younger children have fewer internal resources to buffer their exposure to DV.

On the other hand, older children may have friends or extracurricular activities outside of the family that they can access for support.

Younger children tend to rely solely on their family.

Their parents may become unavailable to them emotionally or preoccupied as a result of their experience with DV, which would leave little time and energy for them to nurture their children properly.

As a result, their children may bottle up their emotions or blame themselves for a divorce.

This may intrude on their thoughts and cause trauma (i.e., children, ages 3 to 6, lack the skills to verbalize their feelings, making them particularly vulnerable to negative outcomes).

Trauma creates fear in children. And, DV exposure is especially detrimental to the health of younger children because of the elevated stress levels.

It is a major risk to their brain development. There are three general responses to stress:

  1. Hyper-sensitivity (e.g. inconsolable temperament)
  2. Hyper-vigilance (e.g. wide eyes, anxiety in muscles)
  3. Shut down/tuned out (e.g. withdrawn and often misunderstood)

Babies are very sensitive to DV exposure because they can sense the tension and fear.

They may have stomachaches or even diarrhea due to the tension.

Often “easy babies” are simply frozen in trauma. And, if a parent, caregiver, or attachment figure is the source of the distress, then the child will stray from them.

It has also been found that childhood exposure to DV increases the likelihood of mental health problems and revictimization in the future.

As children grow older they might feel responsible for the DV incidents.

This is because their brains are developing and they are becoming more logical with the passage of time.

They might even use survival tactics or moral reasoning (e.g., identify with the batterer in attempts to stay in their good graces or act as a mediator to stop the violence).

Social learning theory also suggests that some children may repeat the abusive cycle by lashing out on other family members.

These scenarios could be physically dangerous to the child and cause them immense strain for the rest of their life.

Long Term Effects on Children

Effects of DV exposure on children can be short or long term
Effects of DV exposure on children can be short or long term | Source

Conclusion

DV impacts children’s health immensely.

It also forces them to learn lessons, which are taught prior to them acquiring the cognitive ability to truly understand.

Their teachers are experts on loss and death.

They are taught that violence is an acceptable form of problem solving in interpersonal relationships.

This negatively impacts their development and brain chemistry.

Children also socially learn from DV exposure that violence is a given for a “loving” relationship.

Children are malleable and if they are exposed to DV then they may perceive the world as violent and unstable.

This threatens a child’s natural curiosity and infringes on their desire for exploration of their social environment.

Without a secure base, the child may become insecure with their surroundings because they lack the confidence and courage to explore their physical and social worlds.

DV fosters a hefty sense of responsibility and helplessness that is beyond a child’s maturity level.

Ultimately, exposure to DV will likely cause children to develop problematic, unhealthy behaviors; however, a stable relationship between the child and the caregiver could significantly decrease the effects of DV exposure on them.

Child's View of DV

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