When domestic violence is present in a family, children inevitably find themselves impacted by the situation. We are no longer talking about domestic violence, but about family violence.

All children need a safe and healthy environment in order to develop normally. Growing up in a climate where violence is present creates insecurity.

For victims and those around them, domestic violence is complex and difficult to define. Consequently, one can imagine how the children struggle to understand the situation. They find it hard to verbalize the dynamic using phrases like “my parent got in trouble.” Although they may not be able to conceptualize domestic violence clearly, children are very adept at sensing hierarchical relationships. For example, they quickly sense who is popular and who is rejected in a schoolyard. When there is domestic violence in a family, children feel that there is a “head” parent who has power and an “inferior” parent who is in danger. Children will have to adapt to these unequal power relations to protect themselves from the violence of the “head” and to avoid “getting in trouble” like the victim.

Thus, some children may refuse the authority of the victim, refuse to comply with their instructions or their supervision interventions, and may go so far as to have fits, hit or bite to get there. When children react in this way, it is not because they are “imitating” the abusive parent, but rather because they are trying to adapt to the situation and protect themselves from it. It is a “save yourself” reaction that is normal, and it is neither the fault of the child nor the fault of the victim… although they generally feel like the two culprits.

In addition to its repercussions on feelings of security and family power relations, domestic violence has many other effects on children. They can face major and repeated crises. It creates a feeling of constant fear. The latter then fear for themselves, for their siblings, for their parent who is the victim of violence. They may even fear for their lives. They live with constant stress.

They can experience great confusion about how they feel about the victim and the abuser. They may feel responsible for protecting the victim or think they have provoked the violence. They may have behavioral problems in school, difficulty in school or in their social relationships. They may have difficulty building good self-esteem.
Exposed to domestic violence, children are often in a state of post-traumatic stress and risk receiving other diagnoses that do not take into account the exposure to violence: difficult child, demanding, defiant, hyperactive, etc.

How can we help them?

To help a child exposed to domestic violence, we must first support the victim parent in regaining power over their life. We can also promote the recovery of the exposed child by remaining available to them, by offering them a space to speak and express themselves, by offering them comfort, pleasure and respite, or quite simply, by taking care of them. We need to remember, however, that the non-violent parent is the best person to help their child, and therefore to avoid taking their place. It should be noted that we must at all costs prevent the child from becoming the parents’ “spokesperson”.

Source: SOS domestic violence

Mélanie Calvé

Mélanie Calvé


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