It is estimated that around 90% of all instances of domestic violence in a family situation occur in the same room, or the room next to a room which contains a child. Even if you do not think that your children have witnessed domestic abuse in your relationship, they may still be affected by it.
Children are very perceptive of problems in a relationship, and they may still be troubled by domestic violence.
How can domestic abuse affect children?
Living in a home where domestic violence is occurring can have an emotional impact on a child. Many children will become insecure, withdrawn or frightened. They may also become isolated from their friends at school, because they do not understand why they seem different to their friends. If their parents do not talk about their feelings properly, children will often learn that they must also keep their feelings and fears to themselves too. This means that it can be quite difficult to get children to open up about what is troubling them.
Children may also develop behavioural issues. If they feel unable to talk about their feelings then they may choose to express themselves via behaviours that other people consider to be “naughty”. Older children may turn to drink or drugs as a way to escape their problems.
Some children will start to struggle in school because they have difficulty concentrating on the tasks at hand, rather than their own problems. They may also find it difficult to do their homework, because there is no safe space for them to work at home. Educational difficulties are particularly common in children who are kept awake at night by abuse which occurs after they have gone to bed. On the other hand, some children will become “model” students, because they are worried that if they get bad grades then this may trigger an abusive episode.
Who can support children?
Children will be better equipped to make sense of what is happening to them if they are given the right support. Many organisations in the United Kingdom offer support services which are designed specifically to help children who have suffered or witnessed domestic violence.
Most charities which support women who are fleeing domestic violence will have specialist support workers who work with children. If they do not, then they will normally be able to signpost people towards the support that they need.
How to help your children if you are suffering domestic abuse
Talk to your children about your feelings and try to help them to understand the situation. Ask them to share their feelings with you, so that they do not bottle everything up. Find out if there are any clubs or groups that they can join in the London area. As well as helping them to feel less isolated, this can also help to keep children out of the toxic environment of your home.
Make sure that they know that the abuse is not their fault. You should also make it clear that you are not their responsibility either, although you should teach children ways to keep themselves safe.
Teach them how to call 999 if there is an emergency, rather than trying to protect you themselves. Work out a plan with them so that they will know where to go and what to do if you are not around to help them.
You should also teach them that violence and abuse is not acceptable. If they think that violence and abuse is tolerated when people are stressed or unhappy, then they may start to act out their own feelings in a similar manner.