Children Exposed to Battering

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, in their April 2013 report, as many as ten million children and adolescents witness violence between their caregivers.  Parents or caregivers often think that if the children didn’t witness the violence, they aren’t aware of it.  It’s not so.  Children, even in the womb, are aware and impacted.

When mom comes to the breakfast table with bruises or is obviously upset; when mom spends more time trying to avoid conflict than on parenting the children; when mom is emotionally numb from the abuse, children are aware.

One of the most devastating effects of living with a batterer is their often intentional work to keep mom and child from bonding.  The effects can be different from child to child and from one age group to another.

For young children, symptoms include:

  • anxiety or increased fear
  • depression
  • loss of interest in school, friends or other things they enjoyed in the past
  • sleep problems, including nightmares or bedwetting
  • increased aggression
  • anger
  • spending more time alone
  • fighting at home or at school
  • bullying or being bullied
  • changes in appetite

For adolescents, symptoms include:

  • drug or alcohol
  • skipping school
  • changes in peer groups
  • new rebellious or oppositional behavior
  • declining grades
  • social withdrawal
  • depression or anxiety
  • loss of interest in school, friends or other things they enjoyed in the past

As you can see, there’s a wide continuum of how children and teens can react.  The good news is, once they are out of the violent situation, they can begin to heal.  The Alliance has a curriculum called, “Helping Children Who Have Been Exposed to Batterers.”  Parents can learn how the abuse has affected their children and themselves.  And, parents can learn healthier ways to solve conflict and communicate with their children that doesn’t require a power over model.