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Family Violence: Effects on Children



  • Family violence is a problem for everyone in the family, even if your child is not the victim.
  • The way that violence affects children depends, in part, on how severe the violence is and how often it happens. Children may get depressed or anxious, become disobedient and aggressive, or have physical symptoms.
  • There is only one way to protect your child: Stop the violence.


What is family violence?

Family violence, also called domestic violence, is the abuse of one family member by another family member to gain power and control. The abuse can take many forms:

  • Physical abuse is an injury to your body. Abuse may include hitting, kicking, shaking, biting, throwing, stabbing, and choking. It may also include beating you with objects such as a knife or cord or purposely burning you with hot water, cigarettes, or a stove.
  • Mental and emotional abuse includes swearing or threatening to hit you; insulting you, making fun of you, or calling you names; forcing you to do shameful or humiliating acts; threatening to hurt your children if you don't do what the abuser wants; or hurting or destroying your property or pets.
  • Sexual abuse includes forcing you to have sex; hurting your breasts or genitals; or making you do sexual acts with other people or animals.

Family violence is a problem for everyone in the family, not just the victim. Family violence often goes along with alcohol or drug abuse. Usually the victims of violence are women. However, both men and women can be abusers and both can be victims.

How does family violence affect children?

The negative effects of family violence can last a lifetime. Seeing violence between adults in the family has a greater negative effect on children than television, video games, and movies. The way that violence affects children depends, in part, on a child’s age, how severe the violence is and how often it happens. It also depends on how well parents are able to love and care for their children. Being a loving parent is often hard for both the adult victim and the abuser.

Even babies can sense that something is wrong. They may have more problems with feeding, play, and other daily activities. They may cry more. The fussiness can increase the risk that the baby will be a target of violence.

Children can blame themselves and feel guilty about causing the violence, even when they have no part in it. Older children may imitate the violence they see. Some children become aggressive, cruel, disobedient, and destructive. Other children may get sad, anxious, fearful, or withdrawn. Children may have physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, or trouble sleeping. Violence between adults can also lead to violence between siblings. Children in violent homes may have a hard time getting along with other children and often do not do as well in school.

Teens from violent homes often take more risks, like drinking, using drugs, or breaking the law. They may become violent adults or be victims of violence as adults.

How can I help my child?

The longer your child is exposed to violence, the greater the risk. There is only one way to protect your child: Stop the violence.

  • If you are being physically or sexually abused, call 911. Know that the abuser may need to go to jail or enter a treatment program.
  • Take your children and leave the abuser as soon as you can get away. Go to a safe place. Community family violence shelters can help create a plan for both the adult victim and the children.
  • Seeing a mental health therapist can help children and adults who live with family violence.

Other things you can do to help your children include:

  • Let them know that you love them and that the violence is not their fault. Tell them that you will do everything you can to keep them safe.
  • Tell them that you know it’s hard and scary for them. Listen to them and talk about their feelings when they’re ready. Understand that they may not want to talk about it with you.
  • Teach them that violence is not okay. Help them learn other ways to handle anger.

Where can I get help?

Many states have toll-free, 24-hour domestic violence hotlines. Look online or in your local telephone book to find one in your area. You can get more information from:

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2016.4 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2015-10-08
Last reviewed: 2015-10-06
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright © 2016 RelayHealth, a division of McKesson Technologies Inc. All rights reserved.
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