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Domestic violence and impact on children

Let me begin with one case which came to us during the first month of the lockdown. The mother visited our center for legal and psychosocial help. During the session with the mother, the children were attended to separately, and during the conversation with both the children we analyzed that the girl had developed resilience while the boy age 8 yrs used to clamp down when the father would get violent at home.

It’s time and we reaffirm that children who witness domestic abuse at home get traumatized. Children are said to be exposed to domestic violence when they witness the abuse, or when they overhear the abuse, or when they are present after the violence i.e. during the intervention of police or taking the victim to the hospital or the victim leaving the house.  It is not only the visual abuse but also the words used during domestic violence that have a severe impact on children.

It is well known that domestic violence and exposure to violence are often entwined (Sampon, 1993), but during this time, cases of domestic violence have been reported from families of higher strata and we cannot sum up that poverty is the only reason for domestic abuse within the family.

COVID-19 lockdown, restriction of movement, and schools closed had a tremendous impact on children and added to their trauma. The lockdown period showed a slight rise in the reporting of cases of domestic violence. Emotional, verbal, and physical abuse are some threats which the children have faced during this lockdown.

Parents often play unwitting role models, and children often replicate the behavior they learn from adults. Children under the age of 4 who have witnessed domestic violence have shown symptoms such as fear or aggression.

With violence at home, the children are exposed to abuse or become victims of abuse. The impact on children may vary from being exposed to situations to direct abuse. Children may face cognitive, behavioral, and emotional difficulties. This impact would vary depending on the level of violence in the family and exposure of the child to the violence.

Some children may end up becoming resilient to violent behaviour at home while others may resort to self-harm. The gender of the children is an important factor. Boys would exhibit hostile and aggressive behaviour which can be termed as external oriented while in girls it would be depression and somatic complaints which we could term as internally oriented. This impact on children would also depend on the child’s relationship with the adult in the home.

Children at risk should receive attention from social institutions, not separate children from the family but to enhance family bonding and child safety. Exposure to domestic violence should not make a child be one in need of care and protection but help the family be equipped to deal with the situation. There is no doubt that some children should be referred for child protection due to imminent danger or harm. This should be done when there is the presence of chronic alcoholic behavior or when there is evidence of consumption of substances or when there is constant and repeated severe violence at home.

Most importantly you need to know that when you react to your spouses’ negative comments or actions in an aggressive or similar way, then you are giving that person power or more control over you. Remember, it could lead to a situation where you are no longer in control.

One of the things that could be done is to take a moment and respond to the situation in a calm way, then you are in control. You need to keep in mind that by reacting in a calm way you are not allowing anyone to control you.

This would indeed help your child to learn how to deal with situations in their lifetime. Remember your child is watching every action and reaction so what they see and learn from you will shape their future and their response in the future.

I would like to end this article with a quote:

“Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny”.
– Lao Tzu, a mystic philosopher


Adv. Emidio Pinho