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Everyday, a child witnesses an act of violence. Not on television but in their own home. "Family and home are not havens in which a child finds nurturing and safety, but rather a battleground where fear, anxiety, confusion, anger, and disruption are significant threads in the tapestry of home life," Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing. Children of family violence are often abusers or victims of abuse themselves. Family violence is a cycle that is very hard to stop. A home is supposed to be a safe place where children learn how to love and relate to others. If they are constantly seeing violence in their parent's relationship, then they assume that a normal relationship is also filled with violence. Often, children do not understand why the violence occurs and may be afraid to share their emotions because of fear. They may associate love and pain together, because this is witnessed in their home. This could lead to psychological problems and confusion about relationships. Children who witness family violence tend to have behavioral, interpersonal, and emotional problems.
Some of the behavioral problems children of family violence suffer from are aggression, withdrawal, and frustration. Children of family violence are often more violent than other children (Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing). Some stress management techniques that children learn are bursts of anger. Violence is learned as an efficient way to solve problems. They often model their parent's conflict resolution techniques. These children are often withdrawn and internalize their emotions. Most of these children are isolated from their peers. Frequent change of residence could be a cause of children's isolation from peers (Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing). Children of family violence are often frustrated because they can not deal with their problems. Often, their education is disrupted by family violence and they start having problems concentrating at school and with truancy. Most are underachievers as a result of low self-esteem which leads to low participation in class or other school activities (Children's Services Plan).
Children of family violence also have many interpersonal problems. They usually assume the victim role. Weak and unhealthy relationships are frequent in adults that grew up in violent homes. Children of family violence have trouble forming intimate relationships and have problems understanding others emotions. (Berry 105). "Each year, millions of children witness their mothers being emotionally abused, physically battered, even sexually assaulted by their fathers or other men in the home" (Berry 104).
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Children assume the victim role because they are usually isolated and neglected. Isolation develops because children did not learn necessary social skills. They may be afraid to bring friends home because of fear that violence will erupt. Parent may teach the child that the problems of the family should stay at home. Children may isolate themselves from their parents because they are afraid for the victim and may not know how to react to the abuse. The children are often neglected because the abuser controls the victim and the victim often becomes overwhelmed. The victim may also have many emotional problems and may not be able to give much time to the children or car for them effectively. Also, children learn to be victims, like the abused parent (Abuse Counseling and Treatment, Inc.). Instead of assertive and constructive behaviors when dealing with emotions, there is a tendency toward passive or aggressive behaviors.
Girls tend to use indirect and passive forms of aggression to meet their goals and to emotionally hurt others or they tend to the turn the aggression inward toward themselves. The danger in this behavior is that the child, upon reaching adulthood still assumes a victim role in interpersonal relationships; thus, the cycle continues (Abuse Counseling and Treatment, Inc.).
Children develop caretaker roles because they take the responsibility of trying to prevent the victim from being hurt. Also, the victim may not be able to act as a caretaker. Some of the assumed caretaker roles may be to take care of the younger siblings and do the household chores. This leads to feelings of guilt and inadequacy because they may not be able to prevent the abuse (Abuse Counseling and Treatment, Inc.) Children of family violence have weak relationships because they have high expectations of others. Usually, they want more love and attention than the other person can give them. This comes from low maternal nurturing from the development years. Children of family violence are usually very jealous individuals because of insecurities and low self-esteem. They may have trouble communicating their feelings with others.
Children of family violence have low problem-solving skills because they have not learned the appropriate way to deal with their problems. The have learned that the best way to deal with a problem is with violence or with apathy. Children often see their parents hurting each other and may feel that everyone will hurt them. As a result, they are not trusting of others, they feel that everyone will hurt them in some way (Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing).
Children develop methods of dealing with everyday problems in their formative years by observing the interaction and skills of parents or guardians. Since the violence and abuse are learned behaviors, the child will most likely continue the cycle as an adult, lacking appropriate problem-solving skills (Abuse Counseling and Treatment, Inc.).
Children of family violence have many emotional problems: low self-esteem, depression, suicidal tendencies, and nightmares. Children usually become apathetic and passive. Children have low self-esteem as a result of witnessing family violence. They have low self-esteem because they may feel they are to blame for the abuse. This may lead to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. Which can further lead to suicidal tendencies (Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing). Children may also be victims of abuse themselves. "Children in homes in which there is violence between adults are two to three times more likely to be abused than other children" (Berry 103). Children may also suffer from physical symptoms including, colds, sore throats, insomnia, and bed-wetting. They may suffer symptoms of headaches, abdominal pains. Poor health is more common in younger children (Berry 105 and Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing).
Children suffer from depression, anxiety, and tension. Also, from stress and irritability. Most children of family violence have not learned the correct way to deal with problems and pain so they internalize them. Anxiety may result from not knowing if there will be another act of abuse. Sometimes children may get hurt in the crossfire when their parents are fighting causing injury (Berry 103). Children live in distress and uncertainty every day of their lives. Sometimes they feel they have a terrible secret to hide and that they are different from other children (Berry 104). Usually, they learn to fear the abuser and may be victims of abuse themselves. This may lead to stress and tension. Children become confused about relationships and how to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy ones. They become confused as to who is right and who is wrong. Children may blame the victim or learn to hate the abuser. Children have nightmares about the violence or suffer from insomnia (Children's Services Plan). "Child witnesses may suffer from trauma and psychological symptoms similar to those in cases of child abuse," (Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing).
Adolescents in abusive homes also have high risk of emotional behaviors. They are more likely to run away, abuse drugs, and commit suicide. These adolescents tend to be more depressed and hopeless than other adolescents. Violence witnessed in the home influences adolescents overall perception of life (Berry 109). "It seems as though taking away the protective effect of a stable home makes teenagers less able to cope with the violence they see in the community", says Robert A. Pendergrast, an assistant professor of pediatrics (Berry 110).
In conclusion, children of family violence have many behavioral, interpersonal, and emotional problems. The cycle of abuse often continues because children are not taught that the violence is wrong. "They are at risk for drug and alcohol abuse, inappropriate sexual behavior, running away, isolation, suicide, and extreme loneliness and fear" (Berry 104). Children are healthier in a peaceful, loving one parent home than in a violent two-parent home. They do not learn how to deal with problems effectively. In adulthood, this leads to unhealthy relationships where they may become the victim or the abuser. Domestic violence not only hurts the victim; domestic violence hurts the entire family.
Abuse Counseling and Treatment, Inc. "Effects of Domestic Violence on Children". Violence Effects Us All http://www.actabuse.com/effectschildren.html
Berry, Dawn Bradley. The Domestic Violence Sourcebook. Los Angeles: Lowell House, 1995.
Chafey, Kathleen, et al. "The Silent Victims of Domestic Violence." Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing, 9 (1996): 7-9.
Coventry's Children's Services Plan. "Children Living in Households Where There is Domestic Violence." http://www.coventry.gov.uk/social/child/csp1997/dv.htm (11 Nov 1997)