When we hear the words “domestic violence,” we often think of adults experiencing partner abuse. Unfortunately, we do not also think of how domestic violence impacts children. It is estimated that 3 million children in the US are at risk for experiencing domestic violence each year. Childhood Domestic Violence (CDV) is defined as an individual being raised in a home where domestic violence is present. This can include both physical and non-physical abuse toward a child, as well as witnessing abuse of a sibling, parent, or other loved one. A parent that is being abused may believe that their children do not know that there is violence in the home. However, one study found that 90% of children in homes with domestic violence knew that the abuse was occurring. Additionally, in homes where domestic violence is present, child abuse is 15 times more likely to occur.
CDV has many long lasting effects on children. Research indicates that when a child is growing up in an environment where violence is present, their developing brain creates negative messages about their self worth and safety in the world. Children who experience domestic violence are 6 times more likely to commit suicide, 57 times more likely to abuse substances, and 74 times more likely commit crimes against others. In addition, the negative messages children internalize impacts their ability to live full and meaningful lives. Children express their trauma with behavioral or emotional problems, including anxiety, problems in school, difficulty sleeping, or physical pain.
If a child discloses to you that they are living in a violent environment, there are many ways you can help. First, let the child know that you believe them and reassure them that it is not their fault. Give them space to express their thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Help them discover healthy ways to cope with their feelings through art, play, or journaling. Let them know you will be there to help as best as you can. Lastly, reach out to professionals for help. You can learn more about services that Center for Community Solutions offers for children impacted by domestic violence at our website www.ccssd.org or call our toll free, 24/7 hotline 888-385-4657. You can also learn more through the Childhood Domestic Violence Association at www.cdv.org.
By CCS Counseling Trainee, Kathleen Thomas