Family Violence: Effects on Children

What is family violence?

Family violence, also called domestic violence, is the abuse of one family member by another family member to gain power and control. The abuse can take many forms:

  • Physical abuse is an injury to your body. Abuse may include hitting, kicking, shaking, biting, throwing, stabbing, and choking. It may also include beating you with objects such as a knife or cord or purposely burning you with hot water, cigarettes, or a stove.
  • Mental and emotional abuse includes swearing or threatening to hit you; insulting you, making fun of you, or calling you names; forcing you to do shameful or humiliating acts; threatening to hurt your children if you don’t do what the abuser wants; or hurting or destroying your property or pets.
  • Sexual abuse includes forcing you to have sex; hurting your breasts or genitals; or making you do sexual acts with other people or animals.

Family violence is a problem for everyone in the family, not just the victim. Family violence often goes along with alcohol or drug abuse. Usually the victims of violence are women. However, both men and women can be abusers and both can be victims.

How does family violence affect children?

Seeing violence between adults in the family has a greater negative effect on children than television, video games, and movies. The way that violence affects children depends, in part, on how severe the violence is and how often it happens. It also depends on how well parents are able to love and care for their children. Being a loving parent is often hard for both the adult victim and the abuser.

Even babies can sense that something is wrong. They may have more problems with feeding, play, and other daily activities. They may cry more. The fussiness can increase the risk that the baby will be a target of violence.

Older children may imitate the violence they see. Some children become aggressive, cruel, disobedient, and destructive. Other children may get sad, anxious, fearful, or withdrawn. Children may have physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, or trouble sleeping. Violence between adults can also lead to violence between siblings. Children in violent homes may have a hard time getting along with other children and often do not do as well in school.

Teens from violent homes often take more risks, like drinking, using drugs, or breaking the law. They may become violent adults or be victims of violence as adults.

How can I help my child?

The longer your child is exposed to violence, the greater the risk. There is only one way to protect your child: Stop the violence.

  • The abuser may need to enter a treatment program.
  • You and your children may have to leave the abuser. Community family violence shelters can help create a plan for both the adult victim and the children.
  • Seeing a mental health therapist can help children and adults who live with family violence.

Where can I get help?

Many states have toll-free, 24-hour domestic violence hotlines. Look in your local telephone book to find one in your area. You can get more information from:

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2013-10-24
Last reviewed: 2013-10-24
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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