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PostSubject: Children and Domestic Abuse   Children and Domestic Abuse Icon_minitimeTue Oct 27, 2009 2:06 pm

Children and Domestic Abuse

Children are often described as the 'forgotten victims' of Domestic Abuse. Children are affected not only by directly witnessing abuse, but also by living in an environment where their mother - usually the main caregiver - is being repeatedly victimised. Children in a home where the mother is being abused are also at greater risk of being abused themselves, or being used to control their mother. Due to his own lack of self-worth the abusive partner feels the need to control all those to whom he considers himself superior. In a family, this includes the children.

Witnessing Abuse

Children witness violence in the home in a number of different ways. They may see or hear the abusive episode, be used or even involved in the violence (eg the child may be in his mother's arms when she is hit), will experience the aftermath, and sense the tension in the build-up to the abuse. Even when the parents believe the children were unaware of what was happening, the children can often give detailed accounts of the events. As well as the physical violence often found in abusive relationships, the children will almost certainly be subjected to frequent emotional abuse of the mother in the form of name-calling, accusations and threats made by the abuser in their presence. As mentioned above, where the wife/partner is being abused, the children are also likely to be abused themselves. This is most true of emotional abuse, where the children's own self-esteem is battered by being shouted at, told they are stupid or are not trying hard enough, or given mixed messages by being favoured one moment and put-down the next. Quite apart from possible physical involvement or direct abuse, these emotionally damaging actions have a detremental and often long-lasting effect on the children.

The Effect of Witnessing Abuse
Many children who witness the abuse of their mothers demonstrate significant behavioural and/or emotional problems including psychosomatic disorders, stuttering, anxiety and fears, sleep disruption, excessive crying and problems at school.

How your child or children will be affected depends on the individual child, their age and gender, how much they witness and whether or not they are personally involved in the abuse, their personality and support available to them. Although research in this field is still largely lacking, it is generally agreed that Domestic Violence or Abuse is highly relevant to the child's present and future well-being, and that there is a significant overlap with child abuse.

In brief,children may experience any of the following problems:

Emotional Problems: crying, anxiety and sadness, confusion, anger (which can be directed toward either parent or other children, etc), depression, suicidal behaviour, nightmares, fears and phobias. In younger children and babies eating and sleeping disorders are common. Children can also suffer from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).
Behavioural Problems: aggression, becoming troublesome at home or at school, withdrawing into or isolating themselves, regressive behaviour (such as baby-talk, wanting bottles or dummies, etc), lower academic achievements.
Physical Problems: bed-wetting, nervous ticks, headaches or stomach aches, nausea or vomiting, eating disorders, insomnia.
Older children will often hold themselves responsible for the abuse, especially where exteme violence has been an issue. Children living in an abusive environment may also condone violence or the threat of violence to resolve conflict in relationships.

It has to be remembered that even in situations where the child is either not targeted directly with abuse or is 'only' witnessing abuse, it can lead to very serious psychological trauma with possible long-term effects, affecting not only the child's well-being during or shortly after the abuse, but affecting the child's ability to build and maintain healthy relationships in his/her adult life.

A Childhood Lost
I am the eldest one of three
I have two brothers younger than me
When we were growing up our lives were sad
Living at home with our mum and dad

We had no money and very little food
He spent it on drink and came home in a mood
The teachers at my school said how well I did
They must have known the secrets I hid

How may pairs of glasses can one woman break?
The bruises, the marks, the lives at stake
That's why we slept out on the streets at night
For me it was safer, so we used to take flight

Away from the man supposed to protect
Out into the darkness, did anyone suspect?
For if we stayed I knew what it would mean
A beating for mum would be heard or seen

I envied my friends, they had happy lives
With dads who actually loved their wives
I am now older with kids of my own
My dad's 56 and now lives alone

He lost his kids, his home and his wife
He's dying of cancer, now he's losing his life

He’s no longer scary, he's no longer bad
He's a Grandad who's dying, but he's still my dad.

~ T.

At the top of the stairs
The young boys sat sobbing
At the top of the stairs
Trying not to make a sound
Hearing the drunken bully
Shouting his abuses
Knowing that justice won't be found

Torn over what to do they just sat
At the top of the stairs
Awoken from their dreams
For what seemed like ages
They had laid quite still
Hoping the sounds were not what they seem

The familiar sounds of crying met them
At the top of the stairs
When the finally ventured out
Courage taking them down
Only a few steps
Before finally wimping out

For many times they had sat
At the top of the stairs
Wishing they were bigger and older
Wanting to run downstairs
And pull the bastard off
But knowing they'd need to be much bolder

The guilty fearful boys that sat
At the top of the stairs
Heard the pleas for an end
'Til one day their brave Mother
Decided her bruises
For the last time she would mend

The boys now grown men
Dearly love their Mother
Who for them unconditionally cares
Since the day of their Mothers independence
They vowed never ever again to just sit
At the top of the stairs

~ written by the son of a DV survivor

Positive Parenting
Many parents whose children have been affected by living in a home where domestic abuse has been an issue are concerned about how it will affect the children as they grow up. They may be worried that they will either become aggressive themselves, copying the violent and/or abusive parent, or that they will consider this sort of behaviour normal and get involved in an abusive relationship themselves. Further concerns may include the possibility of turning to drink or drugs to cope with the feelings of guilt, shame and inadequacy which are often legacies of either being or witnessing abuse. Removing oneself and the child from the abusive environment and providing a more stable home can help, and most Refuges offer care workers trained to help children cope with the trauma and effects of abuse. However, parents themselves have the greatest influence over the child, and learning and implementing positive parenting techniques will be the greatest help available to the child.

One of the most important things we can do to help our children with the issues they face or may face in the future is to ensure we have worked through our own issues and are able to relate to them in a healthy manner. Looking after ourselves and our own recovery can and will only benefit our children too.

"There's no place like home"
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