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Child: Violence at Home

The effects of domestic violence can be physically and emotionally devastating to children.  Children can be harmed physically when being held by the victim while she/he is being attacked, by objects, if the batterer is throwing things, or children can be hurt when they try to stop the attack or try to protect the victim of the attack.  Some of the emotional reactions to violence include:

Guilt - Children feel responsible for the violence.  Children tend to see themselves as the "center" of their world and that they are at fault if something bad happens. 

Shame - Even young children know that it is wrong to hurt someone through physical violence.  They may be embarrassed by what is happening at home and feel that they cannot talk to anyone about it. 

Fear - Children may be afraid of being hurt or that their parent will be hurt by the violence.

Anger - Children may be angry at the batterer for his/her violent behavior and/or at the victim for not leaving the relationship as the violence continues.

Confusion - Children can become confused when the batterer attempts to justify his/her behavior by blaming the victim ("She/he made me do it").

Depression - Children who live in violent homes are at risk for depression.  They can feel helpless to change the situation. 

Hyper vigilant - Children can become sensitive to loud noises or their senses remain in a state of hyper awareness causing them to seem agitated.

Witnessing or being involved in the violence can negatively impact a child's self esteem. Children may also attempt to "model" their parent's behavior and become aggressive or violent with their peers. In addition, children will often express their emotions through their behavior. They will "act out" in their behavior the emotions they may not understand. Some of these behaviors are age specific and can include:

  • Babies - Crying, irritability, eating/sleeping problems.
  • Age 2 - 4 - Hair pulling, nail biting, headaches, eating/sleeping problems, aggressive behavior.
  • Age 5 - 10 - Overeating, extreme over or under achiever, developmental delays, aggressive behavior.
  • Age 10 - 12 - Increased feelings of responsibility for younger siblings, role reversal with victim parent.
  • Age 13 & up - Negative behavior like truancy, vandalism, sexual behavior, drug/alcohol use, eating disorders.

What do I tell my children about?

The Violence:

  • What is happening is not your fault."
  • People are not for hitting."
  • Hitting is one way of being mean. Hurting someone's feelings (name calling, threats, ignoring someone) is mean too."
  • When adults hit each other, it is not OK and they need help to stop."
  • It is not OK to hit or yell at people or animals."
  • I care about myself and you too much to let someone keep hurting me."
  • It's important that you feel safe, and you're not safe if you get in the middle of our fights."
  • If you don't feel safe here, you can go to a neighbor's house for help."
  • I love Daddy (or Mommy), but I won't let him (or her) keep hurting me and scaring you."
  • I don't want you to feel that it is OK to hit when you are angry or feeling bad."
  • I am afraid when I get hit and I don't want to always be afraid."
  • In order to get help to stop the hitting, we need to ask for help from the police, our family, counselors, our friends and sometimes that means the person who hits has to go away."

The Police at our house:

  • The police were called because I (or a friend or relative) was afraid that I would keep getting hurt if someone didn't stop the hitting."
  • People who hit don't stop by themselves and sometimes the police are needed to stop them."
  • The police came to our house to help us. We needed their help and Daddy (or Mommy) needed their help to stop hurting me and making you scared."

Going to Jail:

  • The police felt that Daddy (or Mommy) would hurt me again if they left here without taking Daddy (or Mommy) with them."
  • I felt that Daddy (or Mommy) would hurt me again if the police left."
  • For us to be safe tonight, it was important for Daddy (or Mommy) to go to jail."
  • Daddy (or Mommy) needed time alone to calm down and think about why he (or she) hurts and scares us."
  • People in a family have the right to feel safe, and sometimes a family member has to leave so the family can feel safe."

If, while talking with your children (or child) you discover that your children (or child) have been physically or sexually abused by your partner or another person, you should report this immediately to your local law enforcement agency or social services.

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