Domestic violence affects children, too

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By Ashley Wilson
Special to The SUN
Three million to four million children ages 3-17 are at risk of witnessing domestic violence each year. The effect that we see in children who grow up witnessing domestic violence is of great concern.
Witnessing domestic violence can mean anything from seeing the actual violent act, hearing the fight from another room or even observing the horrible aftermath of a domestic violence altercation.
The long-term effect of domestic violence on children is also something that researchers are aware of.
Boys who grow up with a father that abuses their mother are more likely to use violence as a way to resolve conflict in their own lives. Girls who grow up watching their mothers be abused are more likely to believe that this is a normal relationship, therefore allowing themselves to become victims. Children who were raised around violence are at a higher risk of drug/alcohol abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and are more likely to be involved in criminal activity as adults.
Whether or not a child is part of the physical abuse, they are emotionally affected. Children who witness domestic violence may show signs of anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, anger and oftentimes temperament issues; the flip side is that on the outside, these children may seem well put together. They sometimes make good grades, are good students and even over-achievers; however, on the inside they are a wreck. Their home lives are chaotic and crazy. They are expected to keep the family secret and oftentimes do not even talk about the violence among the family. They also often feel it is their responsibility to protect the victim and their siblings. Outside of the home, this anxiety and learned behavior often shows up in school or in their interactions with other children. The lens with which these children know how to resolve conflict is violence. This can affect their ability to form meaningful relationships with peers and their ability to concentrate in school.
Children become aware of the tension in the home; for example, they may see the fear of the victim when the abuser’s car pulls into the driveway. Children in many cases will blame themselves, siblings or even the victim for triggering the abusers behavior. The children can become fearful and anxious. They may learn to align with the abuser for their own safety and a lot of times will even become angry or lose respect for the victim.
Rise Above Violence is a nonprofit organization that helps about 400 victims per year. That includes children. We have several programs to help children who witness domestic violence not become the next generation of victims or abusers: Kids’ Club is a weekly group for children whose mothers attend the women’s support group provided by Rise Above Violence.
The intention behind Kids’ Club is to create a comfortable, nurturing, safe space where children can share their thoughts and feelings with other children who have had similar experiences. Topics presented include: expressing and appreciating our uniqueness; expanding our feeling vocabulary; learning healthy ways to express anger and resolve conflicts; “Who is in your family?”; gender roles; taking responsibility for actions; and creating safety plans. Children are encouraged to express themselves through art, writing, role-playing and discussion. The Kids’ Club meets during the same time as the Women’s Support Group, which began on Monday, Sept. 24, at 6 p.m. at Aspire.
Rise also provides youth violence prevention programming in the schools. This includes large group education presentations as well as lunch groups, mentoring and elective courses.
If you feel like your child would benefit from participating, please call 264-1129 and the youth violence prevention coordinator can work with you to have your student participate. If you just want to know more about how to help children in our community, you can call Rise and we can come present to your group or help educate you individually.
To learn more about all our programs for adults and children, call 264-2911. All calls are confidential. An advocate is available 24 hours a day to answer your questions.