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When Children Witness Violence

They’re more likely to abuse or be abused as adults, unless adults step in and stop the cycle

  • November 05, 2014
  • By domesticshelters.org
When Children Witness Violence

It’s one of many unfortunate statistics surround domestic violence: 15.5 million children in the U.S. live in families in which domestic violence occurred at least once in the previous year. At last check in 2008, nearly 16,500 children were living in a domestic violence shelter or transitional housing facility. [1]

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, witnessing violence between parents is the most influential risk factor for children to carry violent behavior from one generation to the next. Boys, especially, who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse a partner as an adult. [2]

“There is emotional trauma when a child has been subjected to that type of experience,” says Juanito Vargas, associate vice president of Safe Horizon, a New York domestic violence nonprofit and the largest victims’ services agency in the U.S., speaking about kids in violent households. “It’s due to no fault of the survivor, but [the violence] does emotionally and physical affect children. It puts them in places of complete chaos. Later on in life, there is a propensity for this child to be violent because of this.”

Children of Domestic Violence, a nonprofit aimed at helping those who experience domestic violence early on in life break the cycle, states that 90 percent of parents who are currently with a violent partner believe their children don’t know what’s happening. But when asked, 90 percent of children are aware of what’s going on.

Children respond to domestic violence in various ways, and the effects will vary by age, but some signs to watch for include aggression, behavior problems, trouble interacting with peers, emotionally withdrawn or detached, separation anxiety, fear, anxiety, low self-esteem and difficulty concentrating. [3]

According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), the most important step to take when children are exposed to domestic violence is to remove them from the situation and place them where they feel safe, as well as making sure they see their abused parent or caregiver is safe. Also, helping them to plan strategies for staying safe gives them a sense of control and helps them feel less vulnerable.

Next, counseling is recommended. Based on their age, this could include group counseling or support groups, individual counseling and counseling in tandem with the nonoffending parent. Says NTCSN, “For most children, a strong relationship with a parent is a key factor in helping a child heal from the effects of domestic violence.”

[1] http://www.futureswithoutviolence.org/content/action_center/detail/754

[2] http://www.ncadv.org/files/DomesticViolenceFactSheet(National).pdf

[3] http://cdv.org/signs-of-cdv/