Domestic abuse is not just about the negative emotions and physical harm caused to the victim. Sadly, the effects of domestic abuse are far further reaching and have a detrimental impact on the emotional wellbeing of children who often find themselves caught in the crossfire of an abusive relationship.
Despite their young age, children are incredibly perceptive to negative behaviours, emotions and tensions. In fact, studies show that women who are victims of domestic abuse release hormones as a direct response to the stress of being harmed which could permeate the placenta and affect the baby’s development in utero, with potentially severe consequences for the pregnancy.
The damage of physical harm to children is clear and includes direct pain and injury, but the emotional repercussions are often overlooked at first before the symptoms become too obvious to ignore.
Emotional harm to children who are witness to domestic abuse is a complex topic, therefore we have created this guide to outline the warning signs that a child might be caught in the centre of a violent/abusive relationship, the behaviours to look out for and how to protect children witnessing domestic abuse.
What are the effects of domestic abuse on children?
Physical injuries are often impossible to ignore, but the emotional consequences of domestic abuse in children are usually far harder to detect and can cause emotional issues that can follow them well into adulthood.
According to the NSPCC, domestic abuse can have a serious impact on a child or young person’s mental and physical wellbeing, as well as their behaviour. The effects can vary from child to child.
As well as the distress caused to the child, domestic abuse has also been shown to have a detrimental impact on brain development in their early years, including how they learn empathy and trust.
A report from Domestic Violence charity, Safe Lives states, ‘If children experience chronic stress and trauma, the way their brain develops is altered as they become ‘locked’ into a higher state of alertness in preparation for experiencing future trauma. This can result in a ‘wear and tear’ effect on their body thus increasing risks of disease, psychological problems such as anxiety, and the adoption of harmful behaviours such as smoking, heavy alcohol consumption and early sexual activity.’
Some children may also grow up to replicate these behaviours in later life, creating a cycle of abuse that is difficult to break without early intervention.
Do all children exhibit behaviours caused by domestic abuse?
Some children are more sensitive to the impact of domestic abuse than others, but many will exhibit certain behaviours to a greater or lesser extent.
Some of the warning signs include:
- Being withdrawn at home, at school or at play
- A frozen watchfulness of the adults around them
- Tearfulness with no obvious reason
- Acting out against peers and answering back
- Enuresis, soiling, and nightmares
- Hair loss
- Weight loss and unexplained loss of appetite
- Bullying or aggressive behaviour towards other children
- Problems concentrating in school or poor behaviour
- Anti-social behaviour such as vandalism
- Attention seeking
- Depression, anxiety or low mood
The impacts of domestic abuse can be wide-ranging and serious, with many cases often requiring psychological support from either CAMHS or a local targeted support group. Therefore, if you spot the behavioural signs that you feel might be caused by domestic abuse, it is critical that you act immediately to stop further emotional and psychological damage occurring.
How can I protect my child from the impacts of domestic abuse?
If you are trapped in an abusive relationship and are worried about the wellbeing of your children, it is imperative that you seek help and legal advice as soon as possible.
National Legal Service has helped countless parents and children who are subject to domestic abuse access the legal help and support they need to break free from their abusers using the full force of the law. Our family law solicitors and paralegals have successfully obtained a wide range of protective orders to stop the abuser coming into contact with the victim and children. Many of our services have been provided free of charge with expert and empathetic advice given from our team of legal professionals.
For more information on how the National Legal Service can help protect you and your children from the physical and emotional harm caused by domestic abuse and violence, contact us today on 0203 601 5051.