Effects of Domestic Violence on Kids - Premier Counseling
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Effects of Domestic Violence on Kids

By Kristy Burton LPC, AADC, NCC, TA and Casey Hall LPC, LMFT

Witnessing or experiencing domestic violence impacts children, and even if you don’t think they saw or heard anything, the odds are good that they are aware of more than you know. By talking to kids, learning the warning signs of the adverse effects of domestic violence, and taking steps to help kids work through these concerns, you can ensure your children go on to lead healthy, happy lives. Family therapy can offer a safe outlet for you and your children to discuss the experience of domestic violence, feelings and emotions they’re dealing with in the aftermath, and ways to safely cope with the traumatic experiences.

How Domestic Violence Impacts Kids

In the short term, witnessing or experiencing domestic violence will cause kids to be more anxious or fearful than typical children their age. In most cases, these anxieties will lead to hypervigilance (looking out for the next violent event). In the long term, kids who witness or experience violence are at increased risk to become perpetrators themselves or enter into a relationship with an abusive partner. Additionally, childhood domestic violence survivors are at increased risk for health concerns, including mental and emotional disorders (depression, anxiety, PTSD, low self-esteem), and physical health concerns (diabetes, heart disease, obesity, poor immune function).

Signs Kids are Struggling to Work Through the Effects of Domestic Violence

Kids respond differently to traumatic events, like domestic violence, based on their age, personal experiences within the trauma, and their individual characters. Some common warning behaviors parents should be aware of include:

  • Regression– older kids may start doing things they did as younger children like bed wetting or thumb sucking.
  • Sleep problems – may struggle to fall asleep, stay asleep, or experience nightmares.
  • Physical signs of fear – may show signs of fright like stuttering, cowering, hiding, sweating, shivering, and failing to make eye contact.
  • Separation anxiety – may react badly when you leave, show excessive amounts of concern, throw fits, or otherwise poorly handle separations.
  • Guilt/Self-Blame – may believe that the domestic violence was their fault, claim there was more they could do to stop it, or believe that you would have been happy with your partner if it weren’t for them.
  • Poor self-esteem – child survivors of domestic violence often have low opinions of themselves and don’t feel they have value.
  • Lack of participation – older children and teens may not want to participate in hobbies, sports, and activities they used to enjoy.
  • Declining grades – kids may start to struggle in school, fail to pay attention, and have difficulty remembering details of lessons.
  • Difficulty with relationships – starting and maintaining healthy friendships and romantic relationships may be a struggle.
  • Frequently in trouble – whether they’re acting out or spending time with the wrong crowd, your child may be in trouble more often.
  • More frequent illnesses – stress and anxiety are hard on the immune system, so kids are more likely to be sick.
  • Fighting/bullying – may start fights or bully other children.
  • Skipping school – kids may avoid going to school altogether to get away from other people and stresses.
  • Risk taking – especially older children and teens may engage in risky behaviors like alcohol or drug use, unprotected sex, and driving under the influence.

How to Help

Kids will look to you for support and guidance on how to act, and there are many steps you can take to help your children, including:

  • Be there for them – listen to your kids. Don’t wait for them to come to you. Ask them how they’re doing, and specifically, talk to them about concerning behaviors.
  • Keep them safe – when you notice your child feeling anxious or unsafe, help them to feel comfortable and protected. Create safety plans with your kids for what should happen if your abuser hurts you or your child again.
  • Set healthy boundaries – explain that they have a right to decide when and how people should touch them and help kids set healthy physical boundaries in their relationships. This is also true of protecting your child’s emotional needs, so tell them they are allowed to say no and set boundaries to ensure they feel safe when interacting with others.
  • Work with professionals – individual and/or family counseling can be very helpful for kids who survive domestic violence.
  • Group counseling – because kids who experience domestic violence are at greater risk of becoming perpetrators, they may benefit from some of the skills and resources provided in our Domestic Violence Offender Group. You can contact us to discuss opportunities for kids and teens to be involved in these types of group counseling sessions.

How Central Arkansas Group Counseling Can Help

Whether you’re interested in individual therapy for kids, family therapy sessions, or group counseling, Central Arkansas Group Counseling has you covered. With locations in Benton and North Little Rock, our team of skilled clinicians can support your family as you work through the effects of domestic violence. Simply fill out our contact form or call our team to get started.