Friday, April 18, 2014

KASSELMAN: How domestic violence affects children

By AMBER KASSELMAN, Willow Domestic Violence Center | 12/2/2013

Imagine being woken up from your bed in the dead of the night to a commotion coming from another room in the house. Cautiously, you open the door to your room and creep down the hall, trying to locate the sound that startled you awake. Finally, you reach the threshold of the living room and see your father hunched over your mother who’s lying on the floor. Your father furiously accuses your mother of disobeying him again, and reminds her that this is the price she pays for not being a good wife.

Although this is a fictitious scenario, domestic violence has significant and lasting consequences on children. Becca Burns, director of volunteer services at the Willow Domestic Violence Center in Lawrence, said it’s important for people to be aware of these effects because they might be overlooked or underestimated.

Imagine being woken up from your bed in the dead of the night to a commotion coming from another room in the house. Cautiously, you open the door to your room and creep down the hall, trying to locate the sound that startled you awake. Finally, you reach the threshold of the living room and see your father hunched over your mother who’s lying on the floor. Your father furiously accuses your mother of disobeying him again, and reminds her that this is the price she pays for not being a good wife.

Although this is a fictitious scenario, domestic violence has significant and lasting consequences on children. Becca Burns, director of volunteer services at the Willow Domestic Violence Center in Lawrence, said it’s important for people to be aware of these effects because they might be overlooked or underestimated.

“Parents and other adults may assume that the children are not affected by the violence in their homes because they’re too young to process the fighting or to understand what’s happening,” Burns said. “However, the children can sense the tension and instability in their home life, whether they can verbalize it or not.”

As many as 3.3 million to 10 million children witness domestic violence annually, according to a 1992 report by Murray A. Straus. Furthermore, half of men who regularly battered their wives also abused their children, according to a 1990 survey by Straus and Richard J. Gelles. Thus, millions of children experience abuse directly and indirectly, which can cause short-term and long-term problems.

Domestic violence that affects children can occur in three categories, according to Praxis International, including:

• If the children see, hear or become involved in the abuse of one or both parents.

• If a parent uses the children against the other parent, such as to get information, undermine the other parent’s role or relationship with the children, etc.

• The abuse of the children.

Although children aren’t all affected the same way by domestic violence, they are at higher risk than their peers to experience a variety of problems, which fall into three categories, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, including:

• Behavioral, social and emotional — Children may exhibit aggressive, antisocial, hostile, oppositional or disobedient behavior. They may also have difficulties with anger, depression, anxiety, withdrawal, fear, low self-esteem or relationships.

• Cognitive and attitudinal — Children may struggle in school and score lower on verbal, motor and cognitive skills assessments. They may have slower cognitive development, a lack of conflict resolution skills, limited problem-solving skills, pro-violence mindsets, or beliefs in rigid gender stereotypes or male privilege.

• Long-term — Children may experience these problems in adulthood as well.

Other domestic violence factors that can impact children, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, include:

• Nature of violence — Children who experience frequent and severe forms of violence are at higher risk for difficulties.

• Age — Younger children are at higher risk.

• Time — Children have more anxiety and fear immediately after a violent act.

• Gender — Boys display more externalized behaviors while girls exhibit more internalized behaviors.

• Abuse — Children who experience physical or sexual abuse are at higher risk.

Amber Kasselman is a contributor for the Willow Domestic Violence Center in Lawrence, which serves Franklin County residents.

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