All children are affected by the violence in their homes. Regardless of whether or not our children have been physically abused, watching their mother being battered is a frightening experience. Children from violent homes can exhibit a variety of behaviors. Some may "act out" and may be viewed as delinquent. Domestic violence is an ongoing experience of physical, psychologic, and/or sexual abuse in the home that is used to establish power and control over another person.1 Although awareness about the rate of domestic violence in our society is increasing, the public health ramifications have only recently been recognized in the medical community. The majority of the medical literature to date has focused on the effect of domestic violence
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Increased anxiety around strangers and behaviors such as whining, crying, and clinging may occur. Nighttime problems such as insomnia and parasomnias are more frequent in this age group. Children in this age group who have witnessed domestic violence also may show signs of terror, manifested by yelling, irritability, hiding, and stutteringInfants and toddlers
Infants and toddlers are learning how to form secure attachments and are learning through play and exploration. When exposed to domestic violence, infants and toddlers learn that parents may be incapable of consistently responding to their needs, which interferes with the development of a strong infant-parent bond. Children become fearful of exploring their world, which may interfere with play and subsequent learning.
Preschoolers are learning how to express all of their emotions, including those of aggression and anger. Living in a domestic violence situation can teach children unhealthy ways to express anger and aggression. They become confused with mixed messages of what they see versus what they are told. An example of such a mixed message occurs when children get spanked for hitting a sibling, and yet they see their parents hit each other. Preschoolers are beginning to learn about gender roles based on social messages. They may get the message that men are violent perpetrators and women are victims.