National statistics reported by Project Sanctuary are staggering:
- More than 10 million women and men are victims of physical violence by an intimate partner.
- More than 20,000 phone calls to domestic violence hotlines are made daily.
- Intimate partner violence accounts for 15% of all violent crime.
These figures are reflective of domestic and intimate partner violence in the U.S. During National Domestic Violence Awareness Month this October, we explore how children are affected, as well.
Effects of domestic violence on children
The Child Welfare Information Gateway reports that “children and youth who are exposed to domestic violence experience emotional, mental and social damage that can affect their developmental growth.” This exposure can manifest through a lack of empathy, social isolation, behavioral and psychological challenges, academic struggles, substance abuse or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It’s not uncommon for children to relive the emotional or physical effects long after the exposure.
The article “Parenting After Trauma: Understanding Your Child’s Needs” tells us that some children need additional supports long after they have experienced a traumatic event. Sounds, smells, places or sensations can serve as “triggers” that recreate the event for the child. Triggers may result in physical outbursts, emotional tantrums or even fear-based responses. It comes back to the body’s natural “fight or flight” response to adverse events. Some children may even develop diagnoses such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or oppositional defiant disorder.
Spotting possible signs of domestic violence in children
Even if children aren’t the targets, they are still victims of domestic violence. The National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence offers these warning signs of children living with domestic violence. These are a few signs excerpted from this list.
In infants: irritability, crying, sleeping problems and frequent illness
In toddlers or preschoolers: aggression, withdrawal, anxiety, nightmares, stomach aches
In school-aged children: aggression or bullying, anxiety, nightmares, poor grades, low self-esteem
In teens: social withdrawal, nightmares, headaches, destructive behavior, low self-esteem, poor grades, victimizing others
How adults can help children who have been exposed to violence
How can we, as parents, foster parents, educators, clinicians, mentors and advocates, help children who have been exposed to or been victims of domestic violence? The articles “Parenting After Trauma” and “Childhood Exposure to Violence,” published on healthychildren.org, offer several recommendations to help families work through the traumatic aftermath and help children learn to trust and feel safe again.
- Encourage children to discuss what happened and how it makes them feel.
- Help them find words or constructive ways to deal with their feelings. Praise them when they do.
- Give your children a sense of control with simple choices and respecting their decisions.
- Be open to listening to them as many times as they need to talk about it.
- Ask for help. Talk to your child’s doctor to connect with a mental health counselor experienced in dealing with trauma.
- Try to establish or restore a consistent routine as much as possible.
- Help the child feel safe and protected and make sure they are well supervised.
- Learn to identify triggers that make your children anxious or fearful.
- Remain calm, patient and responsive, even when your child seems distant or unresponsive.
If you or someone you know are a victim of domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.SAFE (7233) or visit thehotline.org.
Thehotline.org shares this important tip: Internet usage can be monitored and is impossible to erase completely. If you’re concerned your internet usage might be monitored, call us at 800.799.SAFE (7233). Learn more about digital security and remember to clear your browser history after visiting this website.
SAFY believes that all children deserve the opportunity to learn, grow and reach their full potential. SAFY’s Behavioral Health Services help stabilize mental health when it is disrupted and build the lifelong skills for maintaining mental and emotional well-being. For over 35 years, Specialized Alternatives for Families & Youth (SAFY) has worked to do just that. For inquiries related to our programs and services, please call 1-800-532-7239 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.