I hear couples claim their chronic arguing, and even occasional throwing of objects or physical altercations, do not affect their children. They assert the children are not usually in the room, or they make a deliberate effort to remove the children from the scene.
Unfortunately there is plenty of research claiming this opinion to be inaccurate. Among the four already recognized types of child abuse — physical, sexual, emotional and neglect — professionals are now recognizing a fifth category — exposure to domestic violence. Researchers discovered that children exposed to domestic violence exhibit many of the same symptoms as children who are more directly the victims of abuse.
The effects of exposure to domestic violence can be wide ranging. They can be physical, behavioral, emotional and social in nature. They can also manifest themselves differently at various ages.
Physical symptoms of exposure to domestic violence may take such forms as headaches, stomach aches, cold sores, bedwetting, shorter attention spans, hyperactivity, fatigue, to name a few. Infants may experience developmental delays and diarrhea from trauma and stress.
Infants are particularly affected by an environment of abuse because their brain is not fully developed. The effects of domestic violence may start in the mother’s womb resulting in low birth weights, premature birth, excessive bleeding, and fetal death associated with the mother’s physical trauma and emotional stress.
Behavioral problems may also become manifest, regression to an earlier stage of development or extreme aggressive behaviors. Other behaviors may include bed-wetting, nightmares, distrust of adults, and problems with attachment.
Adolescents exposed to domestic violence are at risk for academic failure and substance abuse. They may become guarded and secretive. They are more likely to become engaged in violent dating relationships. Denial and aggression become the adolescent’s major forms of problem solving. Behaviors such as truancy and running away may present themselves.
Although many of the described health consequences to children exposed to domestic violence may seem extreme, any level of violence in the home is not a good thing, and the consequences outlined above may be just a matter of degree.
Families should strive for zero tolerance of violence in the home. Our homes should be places where our best selves and most important values are on display. While children are resilient, they are not armor plated and family violence has consequences.