Adults often believe that children and young people aren’t really affected by the violence if they don’t see all the fighting. However this isn’t true. Even if a child or young person doesn’t see the shouting or the hitting, they’ve probably heard it or maybe they’ve seen their parent bruised or upset after an argument.
Domestic abuse is more than a one off argument or fight though; it is a pattern of power and control. This means that even if/when there is no hitting, if there is controlling or intimidating behaviour, domestic abuse is still happening. This means that many children and young people are at home or even in the same room when the fighting is happening. Children and young people pick up on the fear, and they don’t just witness domestic abuse, they experience it in their own right.
Children's experience of domestic abuse
Sometimes children are forced by the abuser to take part in the abuse of their mother. This is supposed to humiliate the mum, and make the relationship between her and her children less strong. This can include things like:
- Ignoring the rules and routines she puts in place and encouraging the children to ignore them
- Calling her names in front of the children, or telling the children that the bad things happen because of her
- Being threatening, intimidating/violent when she is holding the children
- Threatening to have the children taken from her care
- Telling her and making her feel like she is a bad parent
- Refusing to pay child maintenance
- Using child contact to continue to control her and her children
- Telling the children to say nasty things to her
Living with domestic abuse can be scary and confusing for children. Sometimes they blame themselves and feel responsible for the abuse. They might also feel alone, ashamed, worried and helpless. Research shows that children and young people living with domestic abuse have higher rates of depression, trauma symptoms, and behavioural/cognitive problems than other children.
Often women are blamed for not protecting the children from domestic abuse. It’s important to remember that it is not her fault that the abuser is committing domestic abuse, and she will be working very hard to keep herself and her children safe.
It’s important that children who are experiencing domestic abuse have space to talk about their experiences. Local Women’s Aid groups will support women and their children whether they choose to leave the abusive partner or not.
How can I help my children?
Children and young people who live with domestic abuse don’t just witness abuse, they experience it. They are aware of the noise, the tension and fear, and may even be used as part of the abuse.
Living with domestic abuse can be scary and confusing for children. Sometimes children blame themselves and feel responsible for the abuse. They might also feel alone, ashamed, worried and helpless.
Try to give them space to talk about their thoughts and feelings.
Avoid pretending the abuse doesn’t exist or excusing it in any way.
Try to listen to their worries and fears and reassure them.
Avoid making them think they are responsible or contributing to the abuse.
Try to encourage them to speak to grown-ups they trust about their experience.
Avoid asking them to keep secrets or burdening them with your fears and experiences.
Try to make a safety plan with them, and teach them how to call 999 in an emergency.
Avoid telling them their worries aren’t real.
Try to seek help for yourself whether it is from friends, family or a support service like women’s aid.
Avoid blaming yourself for his actions. It is his choice to be abusive, not yours, and you are doing your best to support your children in very stressful and difficult circumstances.
It’s easy to believe that it is best for your children if you try to keep the family together in order to provide the security of a home and father. However, children will feel more secure and will be safer living with one parent in a stable environment than with two parents when the environment is unstable and abusive.
If you are worried about a child you think might be experiencing domestic abuse, get in touch with Scotland’s 24 hour Domestic Abuse and Forced Marriage Helpline on 0800 027 1234 or visit sdafmh.org.uk.