Each child is unique.

Even children in the same family are affected in different ways, depending upon factors such as age, gender, relationship to the abuser, and role in the family.

Abuse threatens a child’s sense of his or her family as safe and nurturing.

Children living with domestic violence are: likely to be maltreated themselves; at risk of injury during violent incidents; unable to grow up in a safe, supportive and peaceful environment; and at risk to develop trauma symptoms (e.g. nightmares).

Lessons Children May Learn from Domestic Violence:

  • Violence and threats get you what you want.
  • A person has two choices – to be the aggressor or to be the victim.
  • Victims are to blame for violence.
  • When people hurt others, they do not get in trouble.
  • Anger causes violence or drinking causes violence.
  • People who love you can also hurt you.
  • Anger should be suppressed because it can get out of control.
  • Unhealthy, unequal relationships are normal or to be expected.
  • Men are in charge and get to control women’s lives.
  • Women don’t have the right to be treated with respect.

How Children are "Exposed" to Domestic Violence:

  • Seeing a physical assault or hearing emotional abuse.
  • Hearing loud conflict and violence.
  • Seeing the aftermath (ex. Injuries).
  • Learning about what happened.
  • Being used by an abusive parent as part of the abuse.
  • Seeing their parent abuse their new partner when they visit on weekends.
  • Being denied what is owed them for child support.

How Children Might be "Used" by an Abusive Parent:

  • Suggesting a child’s bad behavior is the reason for violence.
  • Encouraging children to abuse the other parent.
  • Threatening violence against the children and/or pets.
  • Talking to children about the abused’s parents behavior.
  • Prolonged court proceedings about custody and access, especially when the abuser has previously shown little interest in the children.
  • Holding the children hostage or abducting them.

Children Exposed to Domestic Violence Face Increased Risk for:

  • Sleep troubles, nightmares, fear of falling asleep.
  • Restless/anxious behaviour at naptime.
  • Headaches, stomach aches, aches and pains (somatic symptoms), complaints of being overly tired.
  • Severe separation anxiety (beyond what you would normally expect for this age group) or separation anxiety that lasts an extended period of time.
  • Increased aggressive behaviour and angry feelings.
  • A very high activity level, constant fidgeting.
  • Constant worry about possible danger.
  • Loss of skills learned earlier (ex. toilet training, naming colours, etc.).
  • Withdrawing from friends and activities.
  • Not showing feelings about anything (emotional numbing).
  • Worrying a lot about the safety of loved ones (e.g., needing to see siblings during the day, asking constantly about mom).
  • Difficulty finding and completing an activity or task.
  • Repetitive play about the violence event.
  • Using bullying or aggression to control others.

Not all children who display such problems have been exposed to domestic violence. Some children and adolescents exposed to domestic violence do not appear to experience serious problems.