By: Carolyn Dewey, Family Advocacy Program Specialist
Posted: Wednesday, November 5, 2008 8:11 am
October is recognized nationally as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. As we continue to raise awareness and provide education and services to stem this problem we must also ask, ‘What about the children?’ Domestic violence continues to erode families and negatively impact the wellbeing of children who witness the abuse of parents. When most people think about child abuse they usually do not equate it with domestic violence, although children who witness violence in the home are traumatized in ways that are similar to child abuse. Imagine being a child living in constant fear and feeling caught in the middle between parents because of violence in the home. Imagine the unrealistic responsibility a child may feel to protect the abused parent. Consider the guilt of a child forced to form an unhealthy alliance with one parent at the expense of the other parent. These are just some of the emotional burdens children in abusive families struggle with on a daily basis. It is estimated that over 3.3 million children are exposed to domestic violence annually. This exposure takes a heavy toll on the development of millions of children. Although witnessing domestic violence affects each child differently, there is a common thread-family stress. If parents are stressed about domestic violence, there is a great likelihood that their children are also stressed about it. Additionally, violence between parents may spill over into the parent-child relationship, placing those children in greater danger for child abuse and neglect. Some children may even feel responsible for the violence between their parents, especially if the violence erupts after a discussion relating to the children, as a result some children believe that it’s there responsibility to “make him/her stop” and may grab or hit the abusing parent which often results in unintentional or intentional physical harm to children.
There is no such thing as a perfect family, however violence is never the answer and is always unacceptable. For some families, thinking about the affects of domestic violence on children may serve as the catalyst for change or at least to seek help. When the trauma is unaddressed children are at greater risk for developing emotional, behavioral, social, and physical problems. Emotionally some children may feel ashamed, guilty, and depressed about their family situation. Behavioral problems such as indulging in drug use, lying to avoid confrontation, manipulation, mood swings and acting out aggressively is also common. Social problems such as withdrawal or isolation from friends and family, difficulty establishing trusting relationships, poor anger management skills, and poor problem solving skills can further negatively impact their lives. Physical problems such as self-abuse, nervousness, anxiety, headaches, and frequent illnesses are also troubling.
Although parents may disagree and argue they should make every effort to protect their children from domestic violence. If your children have been exposed to domestic violence, it is highly encouraged that you work with them on the following issues: establishing healthy relationships, trust, and respect; provide emotional and physical security by talking to your children and acting in a way that allows them to express themselves yet feel safe and comfortable; encourage and support your children to establish goals and follow their dreams, actively participate in their lives through attending school activities, sporting events, family engagements and community events. Additionally, recognize improvements, accomplishments, personal growth, and be affectionate towards your children. This is not an easy task, so it’s a good idea to seek professional help to work with your children on these issues and to also address any issues you, as a parent, may have regarding your experience with domestic violence.
If you are in an abusive relationship and would like advocacy or counseling services or would like more information about the dynamics of domestic violence and its affects on children, please contact the Army Community Service at 596-0212 or the 24 hour Family Violence Response Line at 596-0446.