The Cryin House: A Story for Children who witnessed Family Violence

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The impact of physical violence directly aimed at a child is both obvious and measurable by injuries sustained.


  • How Children Affect the Mother/Victim's Process in Intimate Partner Violence.
  • Stories of Domestic Violence | Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
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  • Silent Scars of Domestic Abuse | The National Domestic Violence Hotline;
  • The impact of family violence on children - Focus on the Family;
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  • Domestic violence: Children who see abuse suffer as much as those abused.

According to the March of Dimes, battering during pregnancy is the leading cause of birth defects and infant mortality — more than the birth defects caused by all of the diseases for which people are routinely inoculated, combined. Children are often unintentionally injured when furniture is overturned or objects are thrown. Older children are injured when they try to intervene and protect their mother or siblings.

They become victims of violence by being caught in the crossfire. It is important to note that children can be adversely affected just by overhearing arguments, even when physical violence is not present. If children do not see the violence take place, they will see the results — bruises, broken dishes or furniture, holes punched in walls — as well as hear the screams and sense the fear and tension in the home. When children grow up experiencing or witnessing violence, they react in various ways, depending on age and gender.

Some studies show that preschool boys are at risk for developing behaviour problems and adolescent males who witness family violence are likely to use violence with their mothers during conflicts. Although it appears that boys exhibit more overall problems due to witnessing spousal abuse, girls tend to exhibit low self-esteem and insecurity in relationships.

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Some children react to family violence by internalizing their feelings which is manifested by depression and anxiety. In young children, depression may take the form of sadness, poor appetite, chronic fatigue, withdrawal from friends and low self-esteem. Many older boys feel responsible for protecting their mother which causes anxiety problems. In extreme cases, a boy may feel such pressure that he sees only two options: suicide or homicide. Of the boys between ages 11 and 20 who commit murder, 63 per cent killed the man who was abusing their mother.

Aggressive, angry behaviour is a common reaction to witnessing family violence. Many young people use anger and aggressive behaviour to cope with their fear. Others use alcohol, drugs, sex, and food to numb their feelings. It is not uncommon for an older child to threaten or abuse younger siblings to get what they want.

They have learned their lesson well from the abuser who uses violence to get what he wants. Sons may also become physically and verbally abusive toward their mother. If the husband is no longer living in the home, they may feel entitled to take his place as man of the house. Children may relive violent episodes through dreams or by watching family violence on TV.

These flashes of memory can result in periods of insecurity, fear and depression.


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Some children blame themselves for the behaviour of the abuser, and suffer undue guilt and shame. Boys who witness their father abuse their mother are more likely to repeat the pattern of abuse in their own homes because they learn that men have a right to beat women. This message is ingrained in boys at a young age so that it becomes a natural response to use force to "keep her in line.

1. Background

Girls grow up believing that disrespect is normal, and they may either tolerate it from an abusive spouse or they may end up being an abusive spouse. Children who have experienced physical abuse often report they were more traumatized by the emotional and verbal abuse than the physical. Unfortunately, this type of abuse threatening, humiliating, name calling, yelling, rejecting is not as measurable as a broken arm or a black eye, and must reach extreme levels before it is taken seriously by family members, health professionals or the legal system.

Many professionals who have worked with family violence for years agree that psychological and verbal abuse can be more damaging than physical abuse.

Frequently asked questions

While research shows the devastating effects divorce has on children, it is time we take a closer look at the effects of family violence as well. This is the dilemma of the concerned mother who stays in an abusive relationship for the sake of the children. Which is worse for the children — staying in a violent home or being traumatized by divorce?

According to Dr.

Family violence - tips for children - Better Health Channel

Richard Gelles, a leader in the study of domestic violence, the worst thing that can happen to children is to grow up in an abusive home. Abuse in the home is even more damaging than divorce because it places the child at risk, promotes violence as a way of solving problems, and repeats the cycle of abuse in future families.

Everyone in an abusive family is wounded — the abuser during childhood, the victim at present and the children for a lifetime! As long as abuse continues, we are setting children up for a life of destructive patterns and failed marriages. I was, you know, in the seventh month of my pregnancy and so I was afraid if I said something [to the physician]. I didn't know how he [abuser] would react [if I left] and I didn't want him to hurt my unborn child.

I was scared every day. However, each of these participants eventually sought help with the IPV through the shelter or support group. Some reported coming and going from the shelter more than once 3 of 16 ; others considered the relationship ongoing 9 of 32 and were currently living with the abuser and sorting through their options or hoping to return to the abuser if he followed his treatment plan. Overall, our participants' responses suggested that mothers' awareness about the impact of the abuse on their children is part of a process:. As the relationship progressed, I would probably have thought, you know, "big deal" because I was very young at that time.

The Cryin' House: A Story for Children who witnessed Family Violence

I wouldn't have been able to see that yes it can affect your child, you know. But now I can see where it is affecting him. Several participants expressed surprise in the developing realization of how much their children knew and understood about the abuse. According to the reports of several participants, during the time when they were unaware that their own intimate relationships were abusive, they also had little insight into the impact of the abuse on their children.

In this quotation, a participant reflects back to an earlier time in the abusive relationship when, despite her daughter's protests, she failed to recognize what was going on:. I just recently learned that he [the abuser] was molesting my daughter from the time she was 5 until she was 8 years old. She had brought it up once when she was younger, but he [the abuser] didn't seem the type of person that would do something like that. She has stuck to her story.


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  6. As the participants began to recognize the abusive relationship as a problem, they examined their situations and became aware of how the IPV was affecting their children. This participant from a support group talked about the impact of the abuse on herself and her children, although she expresses some uncertainty about her next steps in the abusive relationship:.

    The verbal abuse is extreme sometimes. The mental abuse is almost constant. The physical abuse is rarely. I know it's abuse. I don't feel like it's that bad. I mean I know it is hard on the kids. I know, mental abuse can be just as bad as physical abuse. But it's like I said, everybody, it would be something different. I mean it's almost gotten to the point where I just want to leave, but then, you know, I do love my husband and it's hard to leave. As participants began to explore altering their abusive relationships and had more insight into the impact of the abuse on their children, they took steps to protect their children.

    Participants talked about sending their children to stay with family or friends 11 of 32 or standing up to the abuser. The following example demonstrates both:. Participant: Things was getting really bad between me and my husband and I told her [daughter] to go to my mom's to stay. Participant: Never hurt her. Never touched her. I didn't allow him—I don't know why—it's like that, but when you say "Don't touch my kids, ever, they are not yours," they [the abusers] usually don't.

    They would beat the hell out of me [nervous laugh].

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