Studies show that the effects on children living in an abusive environment may be harmful and lasting. Some children learn to accept violence as a normal part of family life and will often mimic their parents and become violent themselves.
If a parent remains in an abusive home, children learn there are few consequences for violent behaviour. They become confused in their feelings of love and hurt.
Their feelings toward their parents may also be confused and this may result in loss of respect for them or even directing abuse towards them. Children may grow up to abuse the partners they choose or accept violence in relationships because they think of violence as a normal part of a relationship.
Children who observe violence may:
- feel frightened, confused, and unhappy;
- behave aggressively, become belligerent or withdrawn and act fearful;
- become depressed or even suicidal;
- feel responsible for the violence;
- exhibit self-destructive, accident-prone behaviour;
- Have physical complaints such as headaches and stomach aches;
- Have night-time difficulties such as insomnia, nightmares and bedwetting;
- Seek punishment with behaviours such as lying or stealing (believing punishment means love); and/or
- Adopt rigid gender role identification. Girls can become withdrawn, passive, and given to approval-seeking behaviour; and boys can become aggressive, bullying and given to self-destructive behaviour.
Your children deserve better. Although removing them from a violent home or having your abusive partner leave will not automatically remove the damage already done, it is a first step in encouraging a positive change in their lives. Counselling is available to help children with the confused emotions or trauma they are experiencing.
If you decide to leave an abusive situation, take your children with you. If the police are involved, they can escort you to a safe place.
As a parent, you have a responsibility to protect your children. The cycle of violence can be broken – you and your children deserve to be protected.