Witnessing domestic violence: The effect on children

It’s a sobering thought: When a mother is domestically abused, she isn’t the only one who carries the haunting scars — so do the kids. How are children impacted by this?

When domestic violence infiltrates your home, it’s not just happening to you — it’s happening to your kids too, whether directly or indirectly.

LaVonya Reeves of Battered-not-Broken knows first-hand. She is a domestic violence survivor who is now an advocate for other women who are in abusive relationships. “As a mother and a survivor of domestic violence, the impact was much greater than I would have ever imagined it to be. Long after the physical scars have healed, there were the scars of emotional and mental abuse,” says Reeves. “A woman who escapes abuse thinks ‘it’s over now,’ but it’s the opposite. You have to undo the damage that was done to your children.”

Reeves says that in the wake of domestic violence, you have to worry about the children. “You ask yourself, what examples did I set for them by staying as long as I did? For me, the healing process came through my spiritual beliefs in God along with my will to live. My children and I received counseling through professional and spiritual help,” says Reeves.

Domestic violence hurts kids

The fact is that when kids bear witness to domestic violence, they see an unhealthy and scary situation. “Kids are terribly scarred when there’s domestic violence in the home because they feel helpless and unable to protect their abused parent (most often their mom). This makes little boys feel impotent and inadequate, so that they grow up fearing they will not be able to be good enough husbands,” says Carole Lieberman M.D., Beverly Hills psychiatrist on the Clinical Faculty of UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute.

The impact on kids can be more than that though, says Lieberman. “Their abusive dads act as inadvertent role models, sometimes making it hard for little boys to avoid becoming abusers themselves. When little girls see that their mom stays with their dad, even though he abuses her, it tells the little girls that she should put up with abuse, as well,” says Lieberman.

Long-term impacts on kids

According to Laura’s House, non-profit organization in Orange County that provides counseling and shelter services to families that are impacted by domestic violence, kids who experience domestic violence are:

  • “more likely to develop social, emotional, psychological and/or behavioral problems than those who are not.”
  • “show more anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, anger and temperament problems than children who do not witness violence in the home.”
  • “also at-risk for physical injury.”
  • “at increased risk for sexual and physical abuse.”

take action

October is Domestic Violence Awarness Month. Learn how to protect yourself, take action and help others from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence.

More on domestic violence

When teen dating violence hits your family
Domestic violence: Lending a helping hand
Rihanna speaks out on domestic violence


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