How domestic violence affects children

(This article is part of an Ethiopian Review weekly series that is intended to highlight and help stop the growing problem of domestic violence in the Ethiopian community.)

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People who abuse their intimate partners may also abuse their children. Even if they are not a target of the violence, however, children often know about the abuse happening in their home even when parents think they don’t. Abused women try very hard to shield their children from the violence, but this is not always possible.

While each child is different, children can be affected by seeing one parent abuse the other. Some ways children may be affected include:

* health-related problems, such as headaches and stomach problems;
* developmental problems, such as bed-wetting;
* using aggressive behavior against others, including the non-violent parent;
* problems learning and concentrating in school; and
* school attendance problems.

An important factor in helping children deal with domestic violence is their relationship with you. There are things you can do to help them with what is happening now, and these things may also help them as they become adults.

* Listen to your children – You may think it is better not to talk about the violence with your children, but it is often helpful for children to feel free to talk about what is happening.

* Help your children express their feelings – Children may have many different emotions and feelings as a result of the violence. Help them identify their feelings and let them know that whatever they are feeling is OK.

* Don’t “bad-mouth” the other parent – It is important to be honest with your children, but remember that they probably still love and care about their other parent. Letting them know that this is OK can help them feel less guilty or anxious.

* Establish a sense of security and safety – It is important that children feel safe and protected. Spend extra time with your children and show them love and physical closeness. Even 10 minutes a day of playtime with a toddler can go a long way to help them feel loved and secure. Be consistent with your children, including discipline and routines like homework and mealtime.

There is help available for children who have lived with domestic violence. Many domestic violence programs have services specifically for children, including counseling and support groups. Talk to your local program about how they can help your children, and/or if they have referrals for other children’s services.

(Source: New York State, Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence)

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