Domestic violence can have negative effects on every member of the family. While domestic violence certainly affects adults involved in it, the effects of domestic violence on children who witness it are heartbreaking. Below is an overview of effects of witnessing domestic violence. Refer to our previous blog about talking to children about domestic violence.

In her report published in the journal American Family Physician titled “Witnessing Domestic Violence: The Effect on Children,” Melissa M. Stiles, M.D., cites previous research in noting that children who witness domestic violence and children who are victims of physical abuse often exhibit the same psychological effects.

Potential Emotional Effects for a Child Who Witnesses Domestic Violence

The emotional consequences for a child who is a witness to domestic violence could be severe. Children who have seen domestic violence in the home may exhibit emotional complications, including those below.

  • Intense grief
  • Shame and guilt
  • Self-blaming tendencies
  • Confusion about feelings towards parents
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Embarrassment
  • Fear of abandonment

These emotional consequences can plague a child for years and are often only resolved with the help of a medical or psychological professional.

Behavioral and Social Consequences of Witnessing Domestic Violence

While the emotional consequences for a child who has witnessed domestic violence are internal, behavioral and social consequences may be more easily observable and can impair a child’s life significantly.

Behavioral and social consequences include acting out, exhibiting signs of violence, relationship trouble, bullying, avoiding social situations and more. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, male children who witness domestic violence have a higher likelihood of engaging in domestic violence as adults, and female children exposed to domestic violence have a higher likelihood of becoming domestic violence victims.

Factors That Impact the Effects of Domestic Violence on Children

There are multiple factors that influence domestic violence effects on children. As outlined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, some of those factors are below.

  • Nature of the violence – Frequent and severe violence may affect children more so than fewer incidents.
  • Age of the child – Younger children may have greater emotional distress than older children.
  • Whether or not the child is also the victim of physical or sexual abuse
  • Gender of the child – Boys may externalize behavior more so than girls, who may have more internalized behavior.
  • Time elapsed since exposure to the violence – Effects may be greater soon after the violence.

Contact a Washington Family Law Attorney if You’re a Domestic Violence Victim

If you are the victim of domestic violence or the parent of a child who is being exposed to domestic violence, take action now to protect yourself and your child. The best way to begin is to remove yourself and your child from the situation and contact law enforcement if necessary. You also can seek legal help from a family law attorney. We also offer a list of resources for domestic violence victims.

At the Law Offices of Molly B. Kenny, our Bellevue legal team is ready to assist you and your family with all of your family law needs. To begin, contact our offices today at 425-460-0550.

Molly B. Kenny
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Divorce and Child Custody Attorney Serving Bellevue and Seattle Washington
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