How domestic violence affects children

Children are witnesses

Children don’t have to be physically or verbally abused to be hurt by domestic violence.  Hearing or seeing the abuse of one parent by the other takes a huge toll on kids.  They may:

  • Develop physical and/or mental problems that can last a lifetime.
  • Grow up believing violence is a normal part of family life.
  • Be more likely to be abusive as adults if they are males, and more passive and withdrawn if they are females.
  • Live in daily fear of what to expect at home.  Their lives may be filled with confusion, chaos, anger, and tension that can lead to lifelong fear and inability to trust others.
  • Be isolated by an abusive parent who shuts off the family from outside help or support.
  • Feel responsible for the abuse and powerless to stop it

Note: Even if children are supposed to be in bed asleep, more than likely they hear the violence.

Children are direct targets

Children are sometimes intentionally hurt by an abusive parent, or they get caught in the middle of a domestic violence situation and are “accidentally” hurt or even killed.  Kids may suffer:

  • Physical abuse (shoving, hitting with hands or objects, burning)
  • Sexual abuse (incest or assault)
  • Emotional abuse (name-calling, threat of harm or harm to a pet, or threats, bribes, putting kids in the middle)
  • Neglect (failing to provide healthcare, food, clothing)

Signs that a child may live in a domestic violence situation:

  • Unusual or unexplained injuries
  • Chronic illnesses, headaches, or stomach aches
  • Signs of neglect, such as poor hygiene or dirty clothes
  • Withdrawal (for example, playing alone and having no friends)
  • Depression or low self-esteem
  • Use of violence to solve conflicts
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep, or sleeping during school
  • Flashbacks or nightmares
  • Difficulty expressing emotions other than anger
  • School problems, including lengthy absences
  • Acting overly responsible (as if the child is the adult of the family)
  • Where the father assaults the mother, daughters are 651% more likely to be sexually abused than girls in non-abusive homes.
  • Children of abused mothers are 6 times more likely to abuse drugs and/or alcohol, and are at a higher risk of running away.
  • In a 1992 study 63% of imprisoned kids between 11 – 20 were doing time for kiling their mother’s batterer

Ways to help children in domestic violence situations:


  • Help children make safety plans.  Brainstorm with them about exit routes, safe places to seek shelter, and emergency phone numbers.
  • Tell them the violence is not their fault, and no one deserves to be abused.
  • Tell them it’s not their job to protect anyone besides themselves.
  • Don’t make promises that you can’t keep, such as “This will never happen again,” or ” I promise no one will ever hurt you.”
  • Respect and accept children’s conflicting feelings about their parents.  A child may love the abusive parent, resent the victim for not protecting them, or feel guilty for not protecting the victim.
  • Teach conflict resolution skills.  Show children that violence is not the way to solve problems.  Encourage kids to interact with other children.
  • Encourage play and creative activities like drawing and writing.


  • Seek shelter.  Children will respect your decision to keep them and you safe.
  • Talk to a child advocate about a children’s group.  Your children may benefit from being around others living in similar situations, and doing activities designed to help them cope.

Professionals, friends, or relatives

Report child abuse or suspicions of child abuse to Child Protection Services at Larimer County Human Services – 970-498-6990 – 24 hours a day.