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Advocacy Tip: The Effects of Domestic Violence on Children


Witnessing domestic violence can lead children to develop an array of age-dependent negative effects. Research in this area has focused on the cognitive, behavioral, and emotional effects of domestic violence. Children who witness violence in the home and children who are abused may display many similar psychological effects.  These children are at greater risk for internalized behaviors such as anxiety and depression, and for externalized behaviors such as fighting, bullying, lying, or cheating. They also are more disobedient at home and at school, more likely to have poor school performance, and greater difficulty with relationships.  Child witnesses display inappropriate attitudes about violence, both as a means of resolving conflict, as well as a greater willingness to use violence themselves.


The potential negative effects on children witnessing domestic violence vary depending on age.  In infants from homes with partner abuse, the child's needs for attachment may be disrupted. More than 50 percent of these infants cry excessively and have eating and sleeping problems. Infants are also at a significantly increased risk for physical injury.

Preschool-aged children who witness domestic violence may develop a range of problems, including psychosomatic complaints such as headaches and abdominal pain. They also can display regressive behaviors such as enuresis, thumb sucking, and sleep disturbances. During the preschool years, children turn to their parents for protection and stability, but these needs are often disrupted in families with partner abuse. Increased anxiety around strangers and behaviors such as whining, crying, and clinging may occur. Nighttime problems such as insomnia are more frequent in this age group. Children in this age group who have witnessed domestic violence also may show signs of terror, manifested by yelling, irritability, hiding, and stuttering.

Training Questions:

  1. True or False: Children who witness domestic violence are affected differently than those who are physically abused themselves.
  2. What are some effects of domestic violence on infants?
  3. What are some effects of domestic violence on older children?


To receive 1 hour worth of training credit, read the above article and submit answers to the accompanying training questions to Elisabeth Reise at