Domestic Violence and Children

Domestic Violence Awareness Month is right around the corner. We are taking a moment to discuss the effects of domestic violence on children.

Domestic violence is violence that occurs between people in a relationship. It can include hitting, kicking, biting, slapping, punching, or forcing sex. It can also include belittling, name calling and controlling your actions.

Domestic violence affects people of all ages, races, religion, marital status, education, culture or employment. It happens in cities, suburbs, rural communities and all across the country.

According to the Office of Family and Children Services, “Domestic violence is when a person does things to control someone else in an intimate relationship. A shift in power can happen so slowly over time that the other person may not even remember when it happened; it can also happen quickly after some sort of commitment or a change in the relationship. Physical abuse is only one of many ways a partner might try to gain power and control in a relationship.”

Effects on Children

Domestic Violence and child abuse often occur in the same families and households. Many children who live in homes with domestic abuse are victims of abuse themselves. Children do not need to directly witness the violence to experience harm and are often more aware of the violence than we know.

Children living in homes with domestic violence can experience serious harm such as:

  • Fearfulness
  • Sleeplessness
  • Lower intellectual functioning
  • Anxiety
  • Withdrawal
  • Depression
  • Problems in school
  • Difficulty making friends
  • Aggression

The US Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Women’s Health has detailed the short term and long-term effects of domestic violence on children.

Children in preschool

Young children who witness intimate partner violence may start doing things they used to do when they were younger, such as bed-wetting, thumb-sucking, increased crying, and whining. They may also develop difficulty falling or staying asleep; show signs of terror, such as stuttering or hiding; and show signs of severe separation anxiety.

School-aged children

Children in this age range may feel guilty about the abuse and blame themselves for it. Domestic violence and abuse hurts children’s self-esteem. They may not participate in school activities or get good grades, have fewer friends than others, and get into trouble more often. They also may have a lot of headaches and stomachaches.


Teens who witness abuse may act out in negative ways, such as fighting with family members or skipping school. They may also engage in risky behaviors, such as having unprotected sex and using alcohol or drugs. They may have low self-esteem and have trouble making friends. They may start fights or bully others and are more likely to get in trouble with the law. This type of behavior is more common in teen boys who are abused in childhood than in teen girls. Girls are more likely than boys to be withdrawn and to experience depression.

Long term effects are described as:

Children being at a greater risk for repeating the cycle as adults by entering into abusive relationships or becoming abusers themselves. For example, a boy who sees his mother being abused is 10 times more likely to abuse his female partner as an adult. A girl who grows up in a home where her father abuses her mother is more than six times as likely to be sexually abused as a girl who grows up in a non-abusive home.

Children who witness or are victims of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse are at higher risk for health problems as adults. These can include mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety. They may also include diabetes, obesity, heart disease, poor self-esteem, and other problems.

What to do if you don’t feel safe

If you are the victim of domestic violence, it is important to find a safe place for you and your children. These steps can help you make the transition of leaving more safely.

  • Determine who will allow you to stay with them or lend you money if needed
  • Always try to take your children with you or make arrangements for them to stay with someone safe
  • Open a bank account in your own name
  • Try to obtain a post office box in your own name so that you can receive mail safely
  • Work with a domestic violence advocate to plan the safest way to leave your partner
  • Rehearse a safety plan with your children


Refer to this checklist of items you will want to take with you when you leave:

  • Identification
  • Driver’s license, car registration and title
  • Children’s birth certificates
  • Your birth and marriage certificates
  • Security numbers/cards for you and your children
  • Cell phones; addresses and phone numbers
  • Order of protection if you have one
  • Money, ATM card, credit cards, checkbooks and bank account information
  • Health insurance or medical cards for you and your children
  • House and car keys
  • Medication and prescriptions medical records, immunization records
  • Green card; immigration records, passports
  • Divorce or custody papers
  • Insurance cards; public assistance cards or other benefit information.

Even if you do not plan to leave, it is good to have a safety plan in case things change. Think about where you could go. Identify people who could help you. Make plans for your children. Make plans for your pets. Memorize crisis numbers or call 911 if you are not safe.

Resources in Niagara County:

Child Advocacy Center of Niagara 285-0045

Domestic Violence Hotlines

  • Lockport 433-67716
  • Niagara Falls 299-0909
  • Crisis/Suicide Hotline 285-3515

Niagara County Sheriff’s Office Domestic Violence Intervention Program

  • Lockport 438-3301
  • Niagara Falls 286-4573
  • Victim Assistance Unit 438-3306

YWCA of Niagara

  • Domestic Violence & Rape Crisis 433-6714

National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233

New York State Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-342-3720