Hardly a day goes by that we do not read or hear about an act of domestic violence or tragedy involving children in our community or across the country. Children are constantly exposed to domestic violence and the aftermath can be devastating to the child’s emotional growth and future behaviors.
For example, children and domestic violence studies show the following:
- 3 to 4 million children between the ages of 3 to 17 are at risk of exposure to domestic violence each year.
- Childhood abuse and trauma has a high correlation to emotional and physical problems in adulthood.
- Childhood domestic violence experiences can negatively affect a developing brain, creating a series of negative beliefs lasting into adulthood.
- Childhood exposure to domestic violence is the strongest risk factor for transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next.
- Up to 90% of children living in homes with domestic violence, know what is happening.
Don’t ever think “they didn’t hear anything” “they didn’t see anything” “they don’t know what happened” because they do. Children see, hear, observe, and sense the tension in the home after a domestic violence incident. We should never underestimate the impact on children of all ages after domestic violence occurs in their homes.
Those who experience childhood domestic violence are six times more likely to commit suicide, 50% more likely to abuse alcohol and/or drugs, and 74% more likely to commit a violent crime.
These children can feel emotional and physical "aftershocks" for months or even years. They can relive the event again and again in their minds and be less able to function normally in their day-to-day lives causing anxiety and lack of concentration and so many other stressors. Some may become more aggressive, violent, and self-destructive.
The cycle of violence in these children has the possibility to continue on in their adolescent and adult lives. We need to help these children break that cycle.
Some children exposed to violence learn to resolve their own conflicts in a violent manner-they model behaviors that they have witnessed from a violent incident, and they treat it as ‘normal’.
Others seem to become desensitized to violence and the pain and distress of others and lack empathy. Some retreat into a shell, avoiding people and the world around them.
Children with long-term domestic violence exposure are at an increased risk for: Behavioral, psychological, and physical problems, academic failure, alcohol and substance use and criminal acts.
When these children repeat the violence they have experienced, they perpetuate a cycle of violence that can continue throughout future generations. We must ensure that we can help break that cycle.
The attention given, emotions felt, and memories imprinted onto a child’s brain in moments of stress become linked together and forever taint or else filter feelings, beliefs, and choices in relationships and so many other aspects of life. These children are not merely innocent bystanders. They are victims.
Once a child has been exposed to Domestic Violence it is critical to find support.
Children who have been exposed to or have witnessed a domestic violence incident will need a great deal of support and often will need counseling in order to handle and process their feelings.
Reach out to organizations like ACTS to engage a professional who can help your children and your family with the aftermath of a domestic violence experience.
Back to Normal?
In the weeks and months after a domestic violence incident, do everything you can to make sure that your children feel secure, and that a sense of normality returns to their life.
Be very available if needed and ensure that they are adequately supported throughout the day and night.
Discuss any potentially dangerous situations that might exist and how to avoid them in the future-safety plan in a reassuring manner in order to give the children a sense of security in their environments.
Encourage them to express their fears. Reassure them they are safe by letting them know the steps that have been taken to ensure their protection. Talk often and honestly with the child.
As a society, we have an opportunity and responsibility to inject resiliency into childrens lives through academic, emotional, and social support as adults and trusted agents in our communities.
We must all struggle with whether there are ways we might successfully and effectively intervene within our own families, schools, and communities to instigate and facilitate help and healing.
Lets help break that cycle; our ‘one thing’ we can do for our children.