How Family Violence affects children and young people

Mar 29, 2019

The impact of Family Violence on children can be long lasting and complex. They may witness acts of violence in the home as well as the aftermath of violence, such as injuries to the victim or destroyed property. As a result, children live in an atmosphere of fear, tension, and confusion.

Witnessing family violence isn’t just limited to physical violence and can include other types of violence such as emotional or verbal abuse and controlling behaviour. Children and young people are present in approximately 60% of homes where Family Violence occurs (Safe at Home, 2015).

Ways that Family Violence can affect children and young people include:

Behaviour: Children who experience Family Violence may demonstrate behavioural issues, such as hyperactivity, aggression and hostility. They may also be defiant, withdraw, or run away. Older children may turn to drugs or alcohol.

Development: Traumatic experiences can result in children regressing in their development, and acting younger than their age as they subconsciously try to get to a state of safety and security.

Learning: Living with Family Violence can make it difficult for children to concentrate and learn in school. They may not be supported in learning by their parents or caregivers, or have to frequently change schools to escape Family Violence.

Emotional: Family Violence creates a large amount of emotional strain on a child. They may feel fearful, depressed, anxious, angry or ashamed. They may develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This can include showing excessive wariness or watchfulness, nightmares, and invasive thoughts related to traumatic incidents. They may also have confused feelings about their parent or feel responsible and guilty that they cannot fix the situation.

Physical: People who abuse their partners or ex-partners often also abuse their children. Even if children don’t experience physical abuse themselves, they can experience physical side-effects of trauma. This can include problems eating or sleeping, headaches, stomach aches, and stress reactions.

Social: Family Violence can affect children’s social life and the way that they connect with other people. They may push people away and avoid closeness. They may think that violence is acceptable in all relationships and demonstrate aggression or controlling behaviours. They may become victims of abuse later in life because they believe that abusive relationships are normal and acceptable.

Sometimes these 'negative behaviours' are practices of survival in Family Violence situations. It is important to note that not all children and young people respond to Family Violence in the same way. Just like everybody’s experience of Family Violence is different, so too is a person’s response to it.

With a safe environment and the right support, children can recover from the trauma of Family Violence. They must be kept safe from violence and the reminders of their previous trauma, and have a positive support network around them.

This can include other adults in their lives that they have a positive relationship with, such as their grandparents, aunties or uncles, family friends who understand what’s been happening in the family, and support workers. Schools, childcare centres and support services can also play an important part in providing safe environments to help with healing and recovery. Access to specialised trauma-informed counselling can also be beneficial to children who need it. It’s important that children and young people are listened to and believed about their experiences with Family Violence. While Family Violence can have traumatic and long-lasting effects, with the right environment and support, children can recover.

If you would like to speak to someone about your, or your children’s experience of Family Violence, you can get in touch with us here.