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The Effect of Domestic Violence on Children

In homes where domestic violence occurs, children are at high risk of suffering physical abuse themselves. Regardless of whether children are physically abused or not, the emotional effects of witnessing domestic violence are very similar to the psychological trauma associated with being a victim of child abuse. Each year, an estimated minimum of 3.3 million children witness domestic violence.

There are several general reactions that children from violent homes are likely to show. The same emotional reaction can be acted out differently according to the child's age.

Feeling responsible for the abuse
A child might think, "if I had been a good girl/boy daddy wouldn't have hit mommy."
Constant Anxiety
Even when things are calm, one never knows when the next fight will start.
Guilt for not stopping the abuse
Children can experience guilt over the good feelings they have about the abuser.
Grief
Children who are separated from the abuser are in the process of grieving over the loss. Children may also grieve over losing the lifestyle and positive image of the abuser they had before the violence began.
Ambivalence
Not knowing how one feels or having two opposite emotions at the same time is very difficult for children. A child who says, "I don't know how I feel about it," may not be hedging but rather is confused about feelings.
Fear of abandonment
Children removed from one parent as a result of violent acts may have strong fears that the other parent could also leave them or die. Thus, a child may refuse to leave the mother, even for short time periods.
Need for excessive adult attention
This need can be especially troublesome for mothers who are trying to deal with their own pain and decisions.
Fear of physical harm to themselves
A significant percentage of witnessing children are also abused. They may worry that the abuser will find them and abduct or harm them or that the abuser will be angry and retaliate when they return home.
Embarrassment
Especially for older children, sensitivity to the stigma of spouse abuse may result in shame.
Worry about the future
The uncertainty within their daily lives may make children feel that life will continue to be unpredictable.