Restorations Therapy Blog

How Domestic Abuse Affects Children

by on Sunday, August 9th, 2020

How Domestic Abuse Affects Children

Domestic violence leaves lasting effects on both its victims and witnesses. When children are exposed to abuse—even if they are only silent witnesses—it can still lead to negative consequences that impact them for their entire lives.

According to the Office of Women’s Health, children that are exposed to domestic abuse between their parents are more likely to be violent in their relationships later in life. Statistics show that over 15 million children in the United States have experienced domestic violence in their homes at least once.

Age & Abuse

The age of the child—who is witnessing the abuse—can have an impact on the negative long-term effects that the abuse has on their lives. General short-term effects on most children include feelings of anxiety and fear, always walking on eggshells, and when wondering the next episode will occur.

Preschool-Aged Children

Children in preschool display the effects of witnessing domestic abuse with child-like responses. Increased bed wetting, thumb sucking, crying, and whining often occur. These children will also have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.

Signs of terror may also be present, including stuttering and hiding from others. Preschool-aged children may even develop severe separation anxiety from loved ones they trust.

School-Aged Children

Children within this age category often feel guilt and shame associated with the abuse. They often blame themselves for what is happening. This causes the development of low self-esteem, not participating in extracurriculars, earning lower grades, and having fewer friends. Physical effects often include frequent headaches and stomachs.


Teenage boys that live in an abusive home environment often act out outside the home. This includes fighting with friends and family members, doing drugs and alcohol, having unprotected sex, and getting into legal trouble. Their self-esteem is often very low, causing them to bully others. They also usually have difficulty making and keeping friends.

Teenager girls tend to isolate themselves when witnessing or experiencing domestic violence at home. They also tend to be depressed.

This is not to say that girls do not act out and boys do not isolate, but these are the common findings in most cases of domestic abuse.

Long-Term Effects

One of the long-term effects of domestic violence is that children who experience it may end up repeating the cycle later in life. They can take on the role as a victim or as an abuser in their adult relationships. Boys that witness their father or another man abuse their mother on a constant basis are ten times more likely to abuse their future female partners. Girls that grow up seeing their mothers abused are six times more likely to be sexually abused at some point in their lives.

More generally, children that are victims of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse are more likely to suffer from physical and mental health problems. These include depression, anxiety, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, low self-esteem, etc.

Is It Better to Be a Single Parent or Stay in an Abusive Relationship for the Child’s Sake?

It is important to keep in mind that children do not suffer negative consequences from something they are not being exposed to. Even if your child is not physically seeing the abuse, they can still hear the sounds of yelling and hitting taking place. They can also sense the feelings of tension and fear in their households.

In these situations, your child is more likely to be fearful and constantly on edge. It is better to leave the relationship so they feel safer. Leaving also puts them less at risk for the negative effects listed above.

However, if you stay with your abuser for safety reasons, there are still steps to be taken that can protect you and your children.

Protecting Your Children Without Leaving Your Abuser

It is understandable if you are not ready to leave your abusive partner for safety reasons. However, be sure to prioritize the safety of your children and yourself. You can do this by making a safety plan for you and your children, which can be found on multiple domestic abuse support websites. On those same websites, look for other resources and tools to help.

Explicitly tell your child that abuse is not okay and talk to them about it. Let them know that it is not their fault.

If you are planning on leaving, it is best not to tell your children. This is because they could unintentionally tell the abuser, putting both you and themselves in danger. It’s better to keep you and your children physically safe rather than telling them you are leaving ahead of time.

Helping Your Children That Have Been Exposed to Domestic Abuse

There are certain things you can do to help your children that have already witnessed and experienced domestic violence in the home.

  • Talk to them about their fears
  • Make sure they feel safe and secure
  • Discuss healthy relationships
  • Explain boundaries and set some with them
  • Offer further support by bringing them to counseling or therapy
  • Get professional help, such as CBT, to help them heal and learn to cope

Going through an abusive relationship can be extremely difficult, and even more so when you have children involved as witnesses or victims. The consequences of exposure to domestic abuse can have both short term and long term effects on them. Healthy relationships, positive life choices, and the ability to properly communicate for themselves can be significantly impacted. Whether you are ready to leave your abuser or must stay for safety reasons, there are things you can do to keep your children safe and help them cope with what is happening. The specialists at Restorations Therapy can help you get started if you are unsure. Contact the center at (720) 446-6585 and start the process of helping yourself and your children.

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