What are the Impacts of a Child Exposed to Domestic Violence?

Watching, hearing or learning of a parent being abused by their partner threatens young people’s sense of stability and security.


The potential impacts on children and adolescents include:

  • increased emotional and behavioural difficulties
  • traumatic stress reactions (e.g., flashbacks, nightmares, intensified startled reactions, constant worry about possible danger)
  • increased risk of physical injury or childhood abuse (e.g., physical, emotional)


The perpetrator may use children and adolescents as a control tactic against adult victims. Examples include:

  • claiming the children’s bad behaviour is the reason for the assaults on their parent;
  • threatening violence against children and their pets in front of the victim;
  • holding them hostage or abducting them in an effort to punish their parent or to gain compliance;
  • talking negatively to them about their parent.


Children and adolescents may experience strong ambivalence toward their violent parent. Affection coexists with feelings of resentment and disappointment.

Young people may imitate and learn the attitudes and behaviours modeled when domestic violence occurs. They may: use violence and threats to get what they want, learn that people do not get in trouble when they hurt others, believe men are in charge and get to control women’s lives, and believe that women don’t have the right to be treated with respect.

Exposure to violence may desensitize children and adolescents to aggressive behaviour. When this occurs, aggression becomes part of the “norm” and is less likely to signal concern to them.


For further information see [Impact of Abuse of Children and Adolescents]