Caught in the Crossfire: How Domestic Violence Affects Kids

3 min read
Caught in the Crossfire: How Domestic Violence Affects Kids
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There barely goes a day without hearing or reading about a violent incident or tragedy affecting children in our country.

Some tragedies such as traffic accidents or natural calamities, are unplanned and unanticipated. Fights, muggings, shootings, murders, and terrorist attacks are examples of purposeful and sometimes planned acts.

Many children and teenagers are also exposed to violence at school, in their communities, and, perhaps the most damaging, in their own homes.

Domestic violence, especially intimate partner violence, is at an all-time high as a result of the pandemic lockdown, when everyone is forced to remain at home.

According to research, when children experience abuse or see one of their parents being abused, it can have lifelong implications for their physical and mental health.


Intimate Partner Violence & Children’s Mental Health

Children's reactions might differ when they are exposed to a stressful incident, such as a violent crime.

Some kids develop a dread of the unknown. They may prefer to remain at home and have difficulty sleeping or focusing in school.

Children exposed to domestic violence may complain of headaches, stomach aches, and other unexplained symptoms when their appetites alter.

Even little alterations in their regular routines might cause them a great deal of distress.

Children who are regularly exposed to intimate partner violence have many of the same symptoms and long-term impacts as children who are experience violence, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

For months or even years, these children may experience mental health issues like depression, PTSD, anxiety and physical shocks.

They may replay the experience in their thoughts over and over again, making it difficult for them to function properly in their daily lives.

Some children may become more violent, self-destructive and aggressive as a result of their experiences.

How It Alteres Children’s Perception of Relationships

Children may attempt to protect an abused parent by refusing to leave the parent alone, intervening in an abusive situation, phoning for assistance, or attracting attention to themselves by poor conduct.

They may feel compelled to "repair" their family by striving for perfection or constantly caring for younger siblings.

Some children sympathize with the abusive adult and treat their nonviolent parent with contempt, aggression, or threats.


Children who witness intimate partner violence may receive incorrect messages about relationships.

While some children may grow up to break the cycle of violence in their own relationships, others may acquire personality disorders, serious mental health problems and replicate what they have seen in violent relationships with their friends or partners.

They may learn that attempting to control another person's behaviour or emotions, or using violence to achieve their goals, is acceptable.

They may come to believe that violence and hurtful behaviour is a necessary component of being close to or loved.

How Can These Children Be Supported?

Children who have been exposed to or observed a violent event will need a lot of care and, in many cases, counselling to cope with their emotions.

Paediatricians or other family members can assist children and their non-violent parent in locating a qualified mental health professional who can assist them in dealing with the consequences of intimate partner violence.

The loving parent or family member must do everything possible in the weeks and months after an intimate partner violence incident to ensure that the kid feels safe and that normalcy returns to their lives.

This entails being readily accessible if required, as well as ensuring that they are protected and safeguarded at all times.

  • Any potentially harmful scenarios that may arise should be discussed with caregivers or psychologists, as well as how to prevent them in the future.

    For example, if a mother who is being abused by the father takes the child for therapy, they can discuss how they can leave home and avoid the harmful situation in the future.

  • Children who have been traumatized by domestic abuse should also be encouraged to communicate their anxieties and fears.

  • They must be reassured that they are safe by informing them of the precautions taken to secure their safety, i.e., the child is no longer living with the abusive parent.

When children begin to feel safe and heard, they will begin to heal from the trauma caused by domestic violence and step into their full potential.

(Prakriti Poddar, a mental health expert, is the Global Head for Mental Health at Round Glass, and the Managing Trustee Poddar Foundation.)

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