Children and Domestic Violence

Females who have experienced family violence often marry early to escape an unhappy family life. They tend to believe their marriage will be better than their parent's marriage. Their image of marriage is often based on the perfect television family and they believe this is how their relationship will be.

Unfortunately, they may find themselves in an unsatisfying relationship, often with an abusive spouse. They tend to have the same rigid stereotyped expectations of roles as their parents. When reality does not correspond to their expectations, they become disappointed. The cycle of family violence then repeats itself as these young women find themselves attempting to deal with the stresses and strains of motherhood and marital relationship at an early age.

Characteristic Behaviors of Children who experience Family Violence

There are some behaviors commonly found in children who are reared in families with violent interaction patterns.

They include:

Role reversal , often an older child is forced to accept responsibilities for care of younger siblings and of the household due to the parents' inability to fulfill these functions. This child may never have had the opportunity to participate in normal childhood activities.

Aggressive behavior , some of these children may act in an aggressive manner at home and in school, toward other siblings, children, animals, and adults. This behavior may also include destruction of property and theft.

Violence toward parents , when these children become adolescents or adults, they may turn on their parents.

Running away , these children may run away, perceiving this as their only alternative for escaping an unbearable home situation.

Truancy , these children often fail to attend school. They may believe that if they stay home their presence will keep the fighting under control, or that peers will recognize their physical and emotional deprivation and sexual abuse.

Shy, withdrawn behavior , these children may not interact with others. As this behavior seldom attracts attention, these children may not be identified as trouble.

Some stress factors seem to precipitate abusive episodes more frequently than others:

A child having problems at school.
A child's bad behavior in public.
Being abandoned by a lover or spouse.
The failure of something important to the daily routine (car, washing machine, etc.).
Financial problems.
A move or transfer to a new location.
Problems with toilet training or bed wetting.
An approaching visit from parents or in-laws.
A fight with a loved one.
The death of a loved one.
An illness of parent or child.
Lack of or low self-esteem.
The belief that the child is an extension of self.
Unreasonable high expectations of self.
The need to control.
The desire for revenge.
Lack of a healthy relationship.

Behavior Indicators

Overly compliant, overly adaptive, passive, undemanding, avoidance of conflict, clingy, excessive self control.

Extended aggression, demanding, rageful, biting, destroys property, temper tantrums, short attention span, lying.

Socially withdrawn, timid, depressed, social wariness, inhibited, vacant stares, lack of curiosity, excessive fantasies, poor peer relationships, fear of a particular person, excessive fears, attempted suicide, excessive fear of punishment, feels deserving of punishment.

Developmental arrest, delays in physical, cognitive, social or emotional development, speech disorders, infantile behavior.

Matures earlier than usual.

Delinquent behavior, runaway, stealing, use of alcohol or drugs.

Learn about the warning signs on this page.

Sexually Abused Children

Children often are unable to communicate to parents that they have been sexually abused. A child may not have the language to talk about what has happened. (S)he may have been told to keep the touching a secret. The child may have been threatened or fear that his parents will not believe him.

Children who have trusted or loved someone who then sexually abuses them may react by being unable to trust any authority figure in the dependent, vulnerable way that is developmentally appropriate. An observer may notice the children having excessive fear or avoidance of an authority figure. They also may become extremely passive and with drawn from interactions with others out of fear and an inability to trust.

Some children, however, will feel extremely angry at being hurt or betrayed by the offense. Such children may react aggressively and destructively to any aspect of their environment that they perceive as demanding or unfair or potentially hurtful. They're extreme overreaction to seemingly minor events may puzzle observers.

Children's reactions are frequently observed by professionals working with sexually abused children. All children do not react in all of the above ways or exclusively in any one of them.

Basically, sexual abuse is predominately a misuse of power. Its primary effect is the disruption of the child's ability to relate to others in a healthy way.