The effects of domestic violence on the growing child

  • Published
  • By Ruth Sunde
  • 92nd Medical Group Family Advocacy
Who was your first love? For most of us, we think about our first attraction or our first, non-platonic relationship. I would suggest that our real first love is the bond we form with our parents or caregivers. The ability of a parent to give hope, empathy or reassurance can form a unique and everlasting connection that helps the child trust and show empathy to others.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a period set aside to raise the awareness of the effects of physical and other forms of abuse. It’s also a time to dedicate ourselves to stand up for children living in fear in these hostile environments.

The relationship between parents and their children can be affected by adverse experiences in the home to include parental drug use, incarceration, domestic violence and child neglect or abuse.

So how does the health of the parental relationship ultimately affect a child’s ability to form a healthy, loving relationship? We all have peaks and valleys in our adult relationships—times when we feel closer to our partner and other times when we do not. Specifically, young children are looking to bond and build a relationship with both parents, regardless of the stability of the relationship.

Imagine a home in chronic conflict, with raised, angry voices or perhaps physical abuse. The child may witness the verbal or physical assaults and feel forced to pick a side between the two people they love most.

It’s the natural course of life that children see events only through their world view, which can be narrow and self-involved. Experiencing domestic violence through the lens of this world view often causes the child to see the discord related to them. Whether they directly or indirectly caused the event, internalizing it can affect their temperament and interaction with their peers.

Another peril of domestic violence between parents is the chance of physical harm to the child during an incident. Children can intervene to protect one of the parents or a sibling and be injured during the course of the conflict.

What is less visible are the hidden scars left behind on children who experience trauma inside the home. Significant psychological distress can have a negative impact on a child’s performance at school, anger management, ability to make and keep friends and result in a sense of helplessness.

A 1997 Center for Disease Control-Kaiser Permanente study found that children who experience adverse childhood experiences are more likely to have social difficulties, mental health problems, and even suffer physical diseases. Living in chronic fear in an abusive home can also result in depressive disorders or other stress-induced disorders that can carry into adulthood.

Yes, children are and can be resilient, but living in a constant battlefield of verbal or physical abuse can ultimately shatter the delicate bond with one or both of the parents.

If you or someone you know are in an abusive relationship - verbal, emotional, physical or otherwise - contact the Family Advocacy Office at (509) 247-2687 to learn how to break yourself and your children free from the toxic pattern of abuse.