Emotional Effects on Children

A child may experience a wide variety of emotions when they have witnessed domestic violence. Some of the general reactions of children who witness domestic violence are:


Guilt / Feeling Responsible for the Abuse

A child might think that if they had been a good girl/boy, the violence would not have happened.


Constant Anxiety

Even when things are calm, the child never knows when the next incident may occur, therefore creating anxiety and nervousness in the child. This may be expressed through irregular behaviour such as nail biting, hair pulling, fear of separation from mother, fear of abandonment, or immobilized staring.



Children who are separated from the abuser grieve their loss. They may also grieve the loss of their life style and the positive image the abuser had before the violence began.


Ambivalence / Confusion

Children may love and hate the abuser at the same time. They may be angry with their parent for not protecting themselves, while also feeling very protective of them. Those confusing feelings are difficult for any child to manage.


Fear of Abandonment

When children are removed from one parent because of violent acts, they may have strong fears that the other parent could also leave them or die. The child may refuse to leave their mother, even for a short period of time because of this fear.


Fear of Physical Harm

A significant percentage of children who witness abuse also fear they will be abused. They may worry that the abuser will find them and abduct them or harm them or that the abuser will be angry and retaliate at a later time.


Need for Excessive Adult Attention

Young children may become very needy, holding on to adults for attention and reassurance. Mothers may become overwhelmed in dealing with both the child's needs and their own needs.



This is especially true for older children and male children who are sensitive to the results of women abuse and may be ashamed of the notoriety.



Children may become isolated from friends and relatives due to their fear and embarrassment of their home life. They may be fearful or forbidden to invite friends to their home.


Lack of School Attendance

There may be poor school attendance due to the child's fear of leaving their mother alone. The mother may also be reluctant to let the child leave.



Some children may try to compensate for the violence by overachieving in hopes of stopping the violence, attempting to please or as a form of escapism.



The combination of the above effects causes the child to feel there is no way out, no hope of the abuse ending, and that there is nothing the child can do to correct the situation. This can lead to depression.