According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 3.6 million Australian adults (20% of the population) reported that they experienced physical family and domestic violence since the age of 15 (1). Domestic and family violence can have a profound and long-lasting impact on children both physical and emotionally. It is possible that children who witness domestic or family violence may be at risk of becoming abusive in future relationships (3).
What are the possible effects on a child that witnessed violence in the family?
- Disruption of need for attachment.
- Poor sleeping routine.
- Problems with eating.
- The child has a higher risk for physical injury (5).
The Pre-school child.
- The child who falls within this group have the tendency to feel guilty about the abuse and blame themselves for not stopping it.
- The child can present with physical problems such as stomach pain and headaches (3).
- The child shows aggressive and regressive behaviours. Regressive behaviours can be for example bed wetting and thumb sucking (5).
- Adolescents who witnessed domestic and family violence may act out in various negative ways.
- This child may have low self-esteem and low self-worth.
- They may struggle to make friends and keep friends.
- They might act out at school, start fights, and bully other students.
- It is more likely that boys will have trouble with the law and girls will be withdrawn and suffer from depression (3).
- Some of these adolescents may become involved in risky behaviours by having unprotected sex and abusing drugs and alcohol.
- They have higher levels of interpersonal problems with family members, than adolescents who did not experience domestic and family violence (5).
Children that experienced domestic and family violence shows long term psychological problems such as PTSD, depression, low self-esteem, and difficulties in relationships as an adult (10).
Treatment for children who witnessed or experienced domestic and family violence.
Counsellors generally use a combination of talk therapy and play therapy for a small child and various talk therapies for an adolescent. Play therapy help the child to relax in the therapy process and open-up to the counsellor. By means of play therapy the counsellor can learn more about the child’s experience. The way the child plays becomes the words of the child (4).
Therapies may include Child-Parent Psychotherapy, Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Abuse Focused CBT, and Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (6).
Is it possible for a child to heal emotionally after experiencing or witnessing domestic or family violence?
The answer to this question lies with the child, some children are more sensitive, and others are more resilient. For a child to heal from this kind of trauma a mixture of various things is needed, this include a counsellor that the child can connect with and a good support network (4).
In conclusion the impact of domestic and family violence on children is significant and should not be overlooked. It is important for parents, caregivers, and society to recognise the signs of domestic and family violence and to take action to protect children from its harmful effects. This can include counselling, and other support services to children who have experienced domestic and family violence, as well as working to prevent domestic and family violence from occurring in the first place through education and advocacy efforts. By addressing the impact of domestic and family violence, we can help to create a safer, healthier and a more just society for all.
If you or anyone you know are experiencing domestic and family violence, please act and speak up. There is help available.
Author: Corey Human, B Th (Hons), M Counselling, Dip Youth Work, Dip Youth Justice, Dip Couns, Dip Pentecostal Theology, Dip Ministry.
For nearly 20 years, Corey has been providing counselling to adolescents, adults and couples experiencing various challenges such as depression, anxiety, addictions and relationship struggles. He can provide counselling in both English and Afrikaans.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2022, https://www.abs.gov.au/media-centre/media-releases/36-million-people-experienced-partner-emotional-abuse
- Look Through Their Eyes. https://lookthroughtheireyes.org/
- OASH, https://www.womenshealth.gov/relationships-and-safety/domestic-violence/effects-domestic-violence-children
- Passmore, J. https://overcomewithus.com/children/child-therapy-for-domestic-violence
- Stiles, M.M. 2002, https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2002/1201/p2052.html
- Vickerman, K.A. & Margolin, G. 2010, Post-traumatic Stress in Children and Adolescents Exposed to Family Violence: II. Treatment https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2810871/