In an abusive relationship, the person who is being abused is not always the only one to suffer. If that person has children, then the children are highly likely to be affected too.
It is thought that around 90% of domestic violence which occurs in a family household will occur in the same room or in the room next to a room where children are present. Even if these children are not physically harmed by the abuser, then they may suffer from a huge deal of emotional stress because of the problems in their home. Children are incredibly perceptive and can still be affected even if they do not see or hear abuse.
The physical effects of domestic violence on children
Over 60% of children who grow up in a household where domestic violence is occurring will also be harmed by the abuser. These children may be targeted directly or they could be hurt whilst they are trying to protect their parent.
Many teachers are given training to help them to identify physical signs of abuse. Although children often get cuts, bruises and sprains whilst playing, if one child seems to be getting these more frequently than their peers, then this may be a sign of abuse.
In addition to physical signs that the child has been harmed by the abuser, stress relating to the child’s home environment can manifest itself in physical forms. This can include; bed-wetting, eating disorders, mouth ulcers, asthma, eczema, headaches and regular colds. Children who are kept awake at night may also start to show symptoms which are associated with a lack of sleep.
Living in a stressful home environment can cause a lot of emotional difficulties for children of any age. Stress caused by domestic abuse can manifest itself in a number of different ways. Signs of stress can include; withdrawal, aggression, bullying of others, attention seeking behaviours, anxiety, fear of abandonment, feelings of inferiority, depression, nightmares and insomnia.
Younger children may be quick to anger and may fly into tantrums or rages over seemingly minor issues. It is worth remembering that younger children struggle to articulate their problems, and this can increase their anger. Some will find it difficult to learn, either because they have trouble concentrating due to the stress levels, or because they do not have a suitable environment in which to do their homework.
Children who are affected by domestic violence and who do not receive any support may also start to display alarming social effects. Older children are more likely to becoming involved in anti-social behaviours such as vandalism, or drug and alcohol abuse. These children are also more likely to play truant or to be kept out of school by their parents. This can affect their education.
Will these children become abusers themselves?
A common myth suggests that all children who experience domestic violence will go on to become perpetrators of domestic violence. This is not correct. Some people who are abused do go on to commit abuse, because they want to have the power and control that they were denied as a child. However, many other children who survived domestic violence go on to become staunch pacifists who would never dream of subjecting others to the feelings that they were forced to endure.
Others go on to enjoy perfectly happy adults lives which are completely unaffected by their childhood experiences. There is no path set in stone for children who are affected by domestic abuse; once children receive the support that they need, they are able to make their own path.