Coping with Violence
Domestic violence, violence that occurs within an intimate or couple relationship, is experienced by people of all ages, races, education levels, occupation, religions, and income categories. Domestic violence is often physical such as hitting and pushing, but can also be sexual, emotional, and economic. Women and men can be victims or abusers (also known as perpetrators) of domestic violence, although women are more likely to be victims and are likely to suffer more serious injuries than men. Although it is unknown how many children are exposed to domestic violence, the problem is widespread. Part of the difficulty knowing how many comes from the different definitions that are used, for example, hearing and knowing compared to seeing domestic violence. No matter what definition, domestic violence is harmful to children. Children living in homes with domestic violence are more likely to experience child abuse and community violence compared to children living in homes without domestic violence.
Children exposed to domestic violence may develop a range of symptoms, including behavior problems and signs of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). PTSD symptoms can include difficulty concentrating; sleep disturbances, excessive worry, jumpiness, and upsetting thoughts and memories of the events that were experienced. Young children exposed to domestic violence also tend to experience stomachaches and headaches, and are more likely to be fearful of being left alone than other children. Although preschool is a time when children typically develop greater independence, the child living with domestic violence may develop behaviors seen in typically younger children. Children exposed to domestic violence may also act aggressively to others. Preschoolers might also believe that the domestic violence is occurring because of something that they have done, and at times they may be given this message (e.g., if you weren’t so loud, if you only behaved better, etc.).
Domestic violence is often a well kept secret. Even so, it is important for parents or caregivers to reach out for help. Your child’s Head Start teacher may be able to assist you with information on local resources (e.g., domestic violence shelters, legal services, counseling services for victims or abusers, safety planning services, child trauma/treatment, and cultural/linguistic interpretation services). Ask to speak with the Head Start teacher in private and in a place you feel is safe to talk. In addition to offering information on local resources, the Head Start teacher may be able to provide support to the child in the classroom. For example, the child experiencing domestic violence may benefit from additional emotional support at school, extra opportunities for positive experiences, and set routines and advance notice when changing activities (transitions). Parents may also find it useful to talk with the child’s doctor or a community health care professional. For more information on domestic violence, including safety planning, please call the national domestic violence hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or visit www.ndvh.org
Fusco, R. A., & Fantuzzo, J. W., (2009), Domestic violence crimes and children. Children and Youth Services Review, 31, 249-256.