It is estimated that 10 million children are exposed to domestic violence annually. Children are not just witness to domestic violence, they are survivors too. Domestic violence is considered one of the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) that can impact people for a lifetime. For example, children who grow up in abusive households are:
- At higher risk for becoming victims or abusers in their teens and adulthood
- At higher risk for PTSD, anxiety and depression
- At higher risk for behavior problems in school and elsewhere
- Likelier to experience health problems as adults
- 6 times more likely to take their own lives
- 50 times more likely to abuse drugs or alcohol
- 4 times more likely to commit a violent crime
- At risk for being used for abusive purposes such as through threats to harm the child, being forced to answer questions about the non-abusive parent, or child custody and other legal proceedings
The good news is, there are things you can do to help children heal:
- Support the rebuilding of relationships between children and the non-abusive parent.
- As children are ready, create a safe space for talking about the emotions generated by abuse.
- Tell children that violence is not their fault.
- Support children’s self-esteem by showing and telling them they are lovable, competent and important.
- Create a structured and predictable environment.
- Model and encourage good friendship skills.
- Label emotions to help children understand how they are feeling, and how others might feel during disagreements.
- Recognize that when children are disruptive, they are generally feeling out of control and may not have the ability to express themselves in a constructive way. Avoid shaming and humiliating them—a calm and supportive approach helps children regulate their emotions and learn that their environment is safe.
- Use culture and traditions to reinforce values and give strength.
- Actively teach and model alternatives to violence and aggression.
- Help relieve the non-abusive parent’s stress.
- Nurture a strong social support network for both children and the non-abusive parent.
If you are worried about the impacts of domestic violence on your children, or a child that you know, call our 24-hour Helpline to talk about ways you can support them.
Adapted from the Futures Without Violence publication: 16 Trauma-Informed, Evidence-Based Recommendations for Advocates Working with Children Exposed to Intimate Partner Violence.