How Domestic Violence Impacts Kids

How Does Domestic Violence Impact Kids?

In Domestic Violence (DV), there are four main types of abuse: physical, emotional, sexual and financial. We can get into what each of those mean at a later date because I do think it’s important. However, I really want to focus on how DV impacts kids.

If there is one thing I know FOR SURE it is that children hear EVERYTHING. I cannot stress this enough. Everything single time I have met with a family, they typically say something along the lines of, “Oh, but they were asleep when it happened, so they don’t really know.” or “Thankfully, they are too young to know what’s going on.” NOPE! A week later when I’d meet with the kid, they knew everything and more. Way more. It’s heart-breaking too because since no one has thought they knew, these kids are trying to understand everything alone.

Here are some basic facts about DV’s impact on kids.

1. Their brains work differently. Children exposed to yelling, screaming, hitting, etc. are working in a place of fight, flight or freeze. They are constantly scanning and assessing their environment for safety. This, in return, makes simple tasks a lot harder. It makes focusing at school extremely hard. Can you imagine listening to your people fight all night, terrified that something bad is going to happen, and then try to go take a test in a few hours? Check out this video by Dr. Bruce Perry.
2. They have major meltdowns. Since their brains are in fight or flight, the part of the brain working to regulate emotions isn’t working well (or at all). For example, if you ask them to do a simple task and then all of the sudden, they are in full on meltdown mode: crying, screaming, kicking.
3. They can stonewall you. Kids exposed to DV are great at shutting down. You cannot reason, talk or find out any information. This is a learned skill, done for protection. In the past, it was probably not safe to talk. However, it can be really frustrating for parents.
4. They need extra love and support. They need to talk about the domestic violence incidents. They need to process their feelings and know that it is safe to do so. Don’t make these kids try to make sense of traumatic events on their own. They need help- just like adults do. So, don’t be afraid to talk to your kids about what happened. At the very least, the kids will know that it is safe to talk to you in the future. Secret keeping is what keeps the cycle of domestic violence going. End it today by modeling healthy communication and safety.

If you recognize any of these behaviors in your kids, if important to find a counselor to help them process their emotions. It’s important to find a counselor that specializes in DV because it is a highly misunderstood topic.

If you yourself are in a domestic violence relationship, here is the contact for the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

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