The effects of domestic violence on children’s growth and development


When children witness the abuse of their parent it threatens their sense of stability and security. Providing a safe and positive environment for your children will strengthen their self esteem and teach them how to interact with the world.


Witnessing family violence is as harmful as experiencing it directly. Often parents believe that they have shielded their children from spousal violence, but research shows that children see or hear some 40% to 80% of it. Children who witness family violence suffer the same consequences as those who are directly abused. In other words, a child who witnesses spousal violence is experiencing a form of child abuse.


Signs of Abuse and Family Violence

The effects of child abuse and family violence show up in many ways. These are just some of the signs that you may observe in your child:


  • self-blame, feelings of guilt and shame, clinging, extreme shyness,nightmares, loneliness, long bouts of sadness, social withdrawal, separation anxiety, fear of strangers, fear of others of same gender as abuser, general fearfulness, anxiety and phobias;
  • feelings of being out of control, intrusive thoughts, insecure attachment to parent, loss of faith, truancy, running away, fighting with peers, criminal offending, early use of drugs and alcohol, substance abuse;
  • developmental delay, headaches, stomach aches, bed wetting and soiling, eating disorders, self-mutilation or burning, thoughts of suicide, dissociation, inappropriate sexual behaviour;
  • extremely low self-esteem, difficulty trusting others, difficulty in problem-solving, relationship problems, anger and aggression, violent when angry, a victim or perpetrator of violence in dating.

For more information please visit the government of Canada RCMP website:


Children who live in situations of family violence can suffer immediate and permanent physical harm, even death. They can also experience short and long-term emotional, behavioural and developmental problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder.  Below is chart explaining normal development for children between birth and 12 years and the potential impact of being exposed to domestic violence.


  Key Aspects of Development (D) and Potential Impact of Domestic Violence (I)
Infants & Toddlers

(D) Take in information from the world around them through their senses. 

(I) Loud noises and vivid images associated with violence can be distressing.


(D) Form secure attachments.

(I) Parents may not be able to consistently respond to the infant’s needs which may negatively affect the parent-child bond.


(D) Become more active explorers of their world and learn through play.

(I) Fear and instability may inhibit exploration and play; imitating in play may be related to witnessed aggression.


(D) Learn about social interaction and relationships from what they hear and observe in their families.

(I) Fear and instability may inhibit exploration and play; imitating in play may be related to witnessed aggression.


(D) Learn how to express aggression and anger, as well as other emotions, in appropriate ways.

(I) Learn unhealthy ways of expressing anger and aggression; possibly confused by conflicting messages (e.g., what I see vs what I am told)


(D) Think in egocentric ways.

(I) May attribut violence to something they have done.


(D) Form ideas about gender roles based on social messages.

(I) Learn gender roles associated with violence and victimization.


(D) Increased physcial independence (dressing self, etc.)

(I) Instability may inhibit independence; may see regressive behaviours.





(D) Increased emotional awareness of self and others

(I) More awareness of own reactions to violence at home and of impact on others (e.g., concerns about mother’s safety, father being charged)


(D) Increased complexity in thinking about right and wrong; emphasis on fairness and intent.

(I) Possibly more susceptable to adopting rationalizations heard to justify violence (e.g., alcohol causes violence; victim deserved abuse)


(D) Academic and social success at school has primary impact on self-concept.

(I) Ability to learn may be decreased due to impact of violence (e.g., distracted); may miss positive statements or selectively attend to negatives or evoke negative feedback.


(D) Increased same sex identification.

(I) May learn gender roles associated with intimate partner abuse (e.g., males as perpetrators – females as victims).

(D) Development, (I) Impact


If you are aware of any child in need of protection please contact your local Children’s Aid Society:

Kawartha Haliburton Children’s Aid Society (Lindsay)

705-324-3594 / 1-800-567-9136
42 Victoria Avenue North, Lindsay, ON K9V 4G2