effects on children 68502What about my children?

Children living with violence in the home respond to their circumstances in many different ways. They may feel frightened, insecure and confused. Often, they learn to keep their feelings and fears to themselves – they may feel like the violence in their home life must be kept secret.

With support, children can begin to cope with and make sense of what has happened in their families. They can overcome the trauma or witnessing or experiencing violence and go on to live safe, happy lives.

Refuge believes that no child should have to live with fear or abuse. Our specialist staff understand the complex ways in which domestic violence can affect children. We can support them to rebuild their lives.

Many children do cope with and survive abuse, displaying extraordinary resilience. However, the physical, psychological and emotional effects of domestic violence on children can also be severe and long-lasting. Some children may become withdrawn and find it difficult to communicate. Others may blame themselves for the abuse. All children living with abuse are under stress. That stress may lead to any of the following:

  • Withdrawal
  • Aggression or bullying
  • Tantrums
  • Vandalism
  • Problems in school, truancy, speech problems, difficulties with learning
  • Attention seeking
  • Nightmares or insomnia
  • Bed-wetting
  • Anxiety, depression, fear of abandonment
  • Feelings of inferiority
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Eating disorders
  • Constant colds, headaches, mouth ulcers, asthma, eczema

Many people think that a child who has experienced domestic violence will inevitably become a perpetrator or a victim of abuse later in life. This is not true. Growing up in a violent home is a risk factor and some children who experience abuse do go on to be abusive in their relationships. But many do not. Instead they are repelled by violence because they have seen the damage it causes; they would not dream of hitting their partner.

  • Talk openly with them and answer any questions they may have, as honestly as you are able, using words that match their age and stage of development
  • Make sure they know the abuse is not their fault
  • Teach them that abuse is not acceptable
  • Help them discuss their feelings. Bottling everything up can create additional pressure. Listen to what they have to say and respond with respect and understanding
  • Avoid burdening them with adult responsibilities. As much as they may want to help, it is not their job to look after you
  • Encourage them to mix with other people. Contact with other people will make your children feel less isolated and boost their confidence. It is important for children to have the opportunity to see other men behaving respectfully towards their partners
  • Help them to stay safe. Teach them to call 999 and speak to the police so they know how to get emergency help. But warn them that it is dangerous to intervene if you are being attacked. Tell them they are not responsible for protecting you
  • Teach them to reach out for help by doing so yourself. Show them that getting help is a positive step and that there is nothing of which to be ashamed
  • Try to boost their self-esteem by letting them know you love them. Praise them and encourage their interests

More than a third of the residents in our refuges are children. Research indicates that 90% of these will have been in the same or next room as domestic violence, and 62% will have been directly abused. Refuge believes that no child should have to live with fear or abuse. Our specialist staff understand the complex ways in which domestic violence can affect children, and support them to rebuild their lives.

Refuge has a small team of dedicated child support workers. These workers play a huge role in helping to make children feel safe, welcome and secure.  Through play, the children have an opportunity to explore their own experiences, whilst develop their social skills by making friendships and having fun with other children.  Our child support workers also provide childcare when mothers meet with their solicitors or other agencies, which ensures that children are protected from hearing and reliving the traumatic details of the violence they have experienced.