Children are affected by domestic violence, even if they are not present during an incident. They may hear the violence. They may see the results of the violence (blood, bruises, and broken furniture). They may be used as a tool by the perpetrator. Or they may become homeless as a result of domestic violence.

Children who witness to, or exposed to, domestic violence may feel unsafe, isolated, anxious, depressed, angry, and distrustful of authority figures.

Short-term effects of domestic violence

A child’s response to repeated domestic violence depends on a number of factors including their age, gender, personality and family role. Some of the immediate effects can include:

  • Blaming themselves for the violence
  • Experiencing sleeping difficulties, such as nightmares
  • Regression to an earlier stage of development, such as thumb sucking and bedwetting
  • Becoming increasingly anxious or fearful
  • Displaying aggressive or destructive behaviour
  • Starting to withdraw from people and events
  • Becoming a victim or perpetrator of bullying
  • Starting to show cruelty to animals
  • Experiencing stress-related illnesses, such as headache or stomach pain
  • Displaying speech difficulties, such as stuttering
  • Misusing drugs and alcohol (in young adults).

What do children learn growing up in a home with domestic violence and what do they need?

  • They learn that threats and violence get you what you want (and you won’t get in trouble), unequal relationships are normal, you must either be the victim or the perpetrator, the world is a dangerous place and no one can protect you.
  • Children in homes with domestic violence need certain messages to help them recover from trauma. They need to know that the abuse is not their fault and that no one deserves to be abused, no matter what. They need help with getting and saying safe.

Appropriate support and counselling will help children to grow up learning how to relate to others with trust and respect.