In some parts of Canada, exposing children to domestic violence may be considered a form of emotional harm or emotional injury. See page Withholding money, taking her money, spending frivolously while the children do without necessities, making all major purchases, denying access to bank accounts, preventing her from taking or keeping a job.
On-going failure to provide needed age-appropriate care, such as food, clothing, supervision, medical care and other basic needs for development of physical, intellectual and emotional capacities in children. Look on the web site of the National Clearinghouse on Family Violence for overview papers about child maltreatment, child sexual abuse, emotional abuse, intimate partner abuse against men, abuse of older adults, and woman abuse. Forced sex, distasteful or painful sexual activity, exposure to AIDS or other sexually-transmitted diseases, refusal to permit the use of birth control.
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Ridicule or punishment for holding a religious or cultural belief, forbidding practice of a person's religion or forcing adherence to different practices. Slapping, punching, kicking, shoving, choking, burning, biting, pushing down stairs, stabbing or slashing with a knife, shooting, hitting with an object. In , surveyors asked 24, randomly chosen adults over the age of 15 10 questions about "spousal violence. Among women who were married or in a common-law relationship at any point over the previous five years:. Statistics Canada used data from the GSS to estimate the incidence of spousal violence in the adult population of Canada.
Find it on-line or order a copy from the Stop Family Violence. Most crime victims do not involve the police. How many children live in shelters for abused women? Who is most likely to experience violence in an intimate relationship? Never generalize from aggregate statistics about women to the life of an individual woman.
For example, most young women recently out of a relationship are not abused. These quantitative data give one perspective. Qualitative data such as case studies show the context, dynamics and consequences of abuse. Paula Wilcox Surviving Domestic Violence. New York NY : Palgrave. When a man is abusive to a child's mother, it's more than bad role modelling.
It's bad parenting. He may maltreat the children directly Footnote 23 and they are at risk of injury during violent incidents. Women living with abusive partners face enormous challenges in being the best mothers they can be. Children may be isolated from potential sources of support and can learn to see the world as scary and unsafe. Each child is unique.
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Even children in the same family are affected in different ways, depending upon factors such as age, gender, relationship to the abuser, and role in the family. In the research literature, children are often called "witnesses" to domestic violence. Children may referee, try to rescue their mother, try to deflect the abuser's attention onto them, try to distract the abuser, take care of younger siblings, or seek outside help e.
As we discuss on page 8, they may feel fear, distress, anxiety, self-blame, guilt, anger, grief, confusion, worry, embarrassment, and hope for rescue. To quell these intense emotions, they may use coping strategies such as those listed on pages 24 and Children who do not blame themselves for the abuse and who develop helpful coping strategies e. Children may try to predict the next incident or believe that changing their behaviour might prevent another eruption of violence. Fear, confusion, guilt, anger, frustration, tummy aches, and worry.
The smallest children are too young to appreciate what other people are feeling. Nevertheless, visible cues like blood and crying signal that someone is hurt.
Older children and teenagers are better able to put themselves in their parents' positions. If a mother gets physically hit, many can imagine how she feels. Some try hard to stay out of the way - below the radar - lest they become the next target. They may think, "will I get in trouble, will I get yelled at, will I get hit, will I die? Some hope for rescue, perhaps by super heroes.
What About Me! Some children will blame their mother for doing whatever she is being accused of by her partner, perhaps spending too much money or not having dinner ready on time. If their father was taken away by police on a previous occasion, they wonder if it might happen again. His arrest is welcomed by a few but dreaded by others. Some children believe they themselves will be taken by the police, for being bad and causing the fight.
Some are angry at their mother for not stopping the "fight" to prevent the police from coming. Hiding, praying, wrapping pillows around their ears, humming, clutching teddies, hugging pets, wearing headphones and turning up the music, concentrating intently on something else, pretending they are somewhere else. Older children may shepherd the younger ones to a safe place and try to keep them calm. Some teenagers intervene in the "fight," playing the peacemaker, the referee, the rescuer, or the protector.
Next morning, next week, next month - one thought remains: will it happen again?
How Parents' Stress Can Hurt A Child, From The Inside Out
Being keen observers, little eyes watch for anything they believe rightly or wrongly to be triggers. Seeing beer or liquor bottles may unleash a flood of emotions. Adults know that alcohol does not cause violence but in some homes, alcohol and violence seem to young eyes to go hand-in-hand. Little ears listen for raised voices or swearing and bad names. When violence has long been a feature of family life, children are hyper-sensitive to the cues and know when it is time to gather the younger kids and get out, or time to be sad and afraid because it's the only thing they can do.
Caroline McGee Childhood Experiences of Domestic Violence. As described by psychologists Lundy Bancroft and Jay Silverman, most abusive men are self-centered and manipulative and either use authoritarian parenting or have little involvement with the children. A man's abusive behaviour fosters disrespect for their mother and undermines her parenting authority.
Even between violent incidents, abusive men can have a toxic influence on daily family dynamics. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. An abusive man undermines a mother's efforts to parent, whether by contradicting her, sapping her confidence as a parent, or eroding the children's view of her as a person worthy of respect. She may change her own parenting style in reaction to his parenting style. Children may be angry that she stayed with him, afraid she will go back, or worried she will get involved with another abusive man.
They may not trust her to keep them safe and may even doubt if she loves them. We all have core beliefs about ourselves. Am I smart, compassionate, or optimistic? Am I someone who deserves to be happy? Am I someone with something to offer the world? Am I of lesser value because I'm female? Am I am entitled to having my way even if it disadvantages others? Am I in control of my choices or does life throw bad luck my way? Core beliefs are formed in childhood and parents are a big part of that process. To hide family secrets, children who live with woman abuse usually don't invite friends home, they try and prevent parents' contact with others e.
They know instinctively, or are warned, that bad things will happen if the world learns the family secrets. They learn to pass as "normal. Roles in abusive families reflect how each person adapts and copes with the secret, confusing, and sometimes dangerous situation in which they live. We list on page 7 some of the distorted messages children might learn from living with woman abuse. They could also learn that you have to deal with your problems by yourself, adults don't keep their promises, bad things happen no matter how hard I try to be good, and life is not fair. In contrast, children who grow up with encouragement, fairness, and safety can approach life with enthusiasm and embrace new opportunities.
Research consistently documents how domestic violence almost never stands alone as the only problem or stress in a family. Footnote 9 , Footnote 11 , Footnote 12 , Footnote 13 , Footnote 14 , Footnote 15 Family dynamics will probably be affected by one or more of these other problems: parental substance abuse or alcoholism, criminal behaviour and possible incarceration of a parent, mental illness, poverty, residential instability, unemployment, and child abuse or neglect.
Children may believe that one of these other issues is responsible for the abuse against their mother. Children's innate ability to adapt serves them well when trapped with abuse, conflict, and violence. Strategies can involve ideas e. Their actions and choices are survival skills: temporarily helpful adaptations to an unhealthy situation. But some, such as running away, create new problems. Male rationalizations for abuse can include "I'm the man so I'm in charge" or "God demands that I keep the family in line.
Such a child could grow up to justify or accept abuse in intimate relationships, workplace settings, or with friends. Messages conveyed by violence can teach tolerance of abuse and discourage help seeking. Some women clearly stay with their partners out of fear, knowing they'd be seriously injured, stalked or killed. Some believe "all men are like that so the next one won't be any better" or that "things will get better when he finds a job. Watching a mother abused by her partner over time, children and teenagers may come to see her as vulnerable, emotionally unavailable to them, not a person with legitimate parental authority, or as someone who cannot protect them.
Footnote 16 They may become her protector, her confidant, or her caretaker. Watching a man abuse their mother over time, children and teenagers may see him as frightening or unpredictable. Some will see him as powerful or the only legitimate parental authority. They may believe his rationalizations for abuse or accept his excuses, such as alcohol or job stress. Each sibling may have different opinions of him, depending on their age, gender, emotional closeness to him, whether he abused them directly, and the frequency and severity of his violence against their mother.
Some choices and reactions of women and children may not seem logical, until you understand them as survival strategies or normal child development. Myth: A woman who loves her children would get out of an abusive relationship to protect them from harm. Especially when the violence is severe, the period around and after a relationship break-up can be dangerous.
A woman might fear losing custody, especially if the man threatened to report her to child protection services, can finance a protracted custody battle, or might abduct them, perhaps to his country of origin. Even a woman who retains custody will worry about children's safety during visitation with their father, because she is no longer there to run interference and protect them. Some women leave the relationship only to reconcile later for safety reasons, or because she has difficulty providing for or managing the children.
Myth: Children will recognize their mother as a victim and their father as the cause of the problems and abuse. Reality: Children can blame their mothers as much or more than they blame their fathers. Young children don't recognize the power imbalance when parents "fight. Toddlers or pre-schoolers live predominately in the present, so an abusive father who bestows a nice present will be quickly forgiven for a recent upsetting incident.
Not until they approach adolescence will most children develop a more adult-like understanding of the dynamics of violence and abuse. Still, older children may be angry at and blame a mother for bringing an abusive man into the home, not protecting herself or them from his abuse, staying with him after it was evident that he was abusive, or reconciling with him after leaving. Myth: Children would hate a father who abused them or who abused their mother. An abusive man seen as an unfit parent by most adults can be adored and respected by his children.
Over time, some children will grow closer to and identify more with him than their mother, perhaps believing his rationalizations about the abuse being her fault. Once gone from the family, children may grieve his absence as in any parental separation. For children too young to comprehend cause and effect, the separation seems to be caused by the mother who leaves the relationship rather than the father whose behaviour made the relationship untenable and unsafe.
Myth: When the abusive man is out of the picture, any family problems the children have will get better. Reality: When the man leaves the home, children may be more out-of-control, angry, sad or in conflict with others including siblings. Ending a child's exposure to violence at home is the single best intervention but, if that exposure has been lengthy, problems may not evaporate.
Strained family dynamics and conduct problems are linked to many factors including:. Another myth: with domestic violence in a home, all a child's problems are caused by the violence. In reality, it is difficult to isolate one cause when children have concerning difficulties and sometimes multiple struggles. Babies may be distressed or scared, upset if not getting their needs met promptly, too frightened to explore and play, or sense the distress of their mothers. They can't protect themselves or leave a stressful situation and depend entirely on adults to keep them out of harm's way.
Some stress is okay, even beneficial, because it's how we all learn to cope with life. At first, baths are stressful for babies but quickly become normal and expected. When yelling and tension become normal, even babies learn to adapt: they stay in a heightened sense of arousal Footnote 22 or they numb and turn inward. Footnote 4 Neither is a healthy response, but it's how they adapt.
Between and , 27 infant deaths in Canada were classified as "shaken baby syndrome" Footnote Feelings: Responding to Your Child's Feelings. Minister of Public Works and Government Services. An affordable, high-quality child care program will be respite for the mother and help the child with self-regulation and age-appropriate socialization. Health Canada First Connections Because of their egocentric nature, they might blame themselves for bad events such as when their parents "fight. It helps to maintain or re-establish comforting routines such as bedtime schedules.
The present is more important to pre-schoolers than the past. Children of this age need to hear that what happened was not their fault, they are still loved, and that important features of daily life will go on even if their families have changed or moved. Spanking is not a good discipline strategy for any child. For children who lived with woman abuse, spanking is especially bad. Child Welfare League of Canada Child Welfare League of Canada. Canadian Mental Health Association. Barbara Preston Ottawa ON: Health Canada.
A school-aged child may recognize how actions have reasons and consequences and that mothers may be upset even after a "fight" ends. They probably see "fighting" as caused by stress, family finances, alcohol, or whatever else their parents argue over. Believing this explanation is easier emotionally than seeing a beloved parent as someone who is mean on purpose.
Seeing a "fight," they judge the behaviour by its fairness: who started it, who is bigger, and if any consequence is deserved. Sue Penfold et al. British Columbia's Children's Hospital. At this age, children come to identify with their same-sex parent. They learn what it means to be male and female in our society, but this learning is distorted when they live with violence against their mother. Helpful interventions with school-aged children can include efforts to support school success and encourage fun, pro-social activities with peers.
Susan Cole et al. Massachusetts Advocates for Children. Adolescence is a challenging stage for both parents and youth, with its dramatic physical and mood changes.
Young people are drawn closer to their peer group and how they are perceived by others is immensely important. While gaining more autonomy, they still need guidance and supervision. At this age, young people who live with woman abuse may feel:. Teenagers can access a wider range of coping strategies than younger children see page Some techniques are effective at solving the immediate problem, like running away or using drugs to numb the emotional pain, but this relief comes at a cost if it leads to problems at school or in other contexts.
At the same time, teenagers are better able to reach out for help, by talking or chatting with others who have similar experiences or by using a confidential telephone help line like Kids Help Phone. We still have a lot to learn about how boys and girls are affected differently but suspect that gender plays a major role in how teenagers understand and react to violence against their mothers. You may meet teenagers who are victims of child abuse, witnesses to domestic violence, perpetrators of abuse in the home, or who are in abusive dating relationships.
Some are all four. Also there is guidance for when a child is abusive to other family members and for knowing when a child needs more help than most mothers can provide. They come to an understanding possibly distorted about what is happening and deal with the flood of hurtful emotions.
Their strategies can involve feelings emotional , thoughts cognitive , or actions behavioural. Young children have limited coping strategies and need adults to buffer them from the harmful consequences of stress and adversities. The following are coping strategies you may see in children and teenagers living with woman abuse and child maltreatment. Remember that coping styles vary with age and that some of these strategies can be triggered by other adversities such as severe marital conflict and parental substance abuse.
Trying to predict, explain, prevent or control the behaviour of an abusive man. When the family is safe, gradually extinguishing strategies with negative effects while replacing them with healthier strategies is an important way to help children and teenagers. Examples of family roles are the mediator of disputes, the "baby" of the family, the prized child who can do no wrong, the responsible one on whom everyone relies, or the "black sheep" who does not fit in and is expected to disappoint the others.
Roles that develop or are assigned in families characterized by woman abuse reflect the unique ways each person adapts and copes with the secret, confusing, and dangerous situation in which they live. For example, children who adopt pseudo-adult roles such as the "caretaker" may have difficulty adjusting when expected to assume the role of child once again.
The "abuser's ally" may take up the role of the now-absent abuser. The "scapegoat" child's isolation within the family may be intensified by feelings of responsibility for the marital break-up. The "perfect child" may be impatient with and blaming towards siblings who misbehaved or otherwise "triggered" abuse by the abuser. Assessing the role of each child can be helpful when families continue to struggle with conflict or abuse even after the abusive man has left the home.
These are examples of roles played by children and teenagers in families characterized by male violence towards their mother. Acts as a parent to younger siblings and mother. May oversee routines and household responsibilities e. The child who is privy to mother's feelings, concerns, and plans. After witnessing abusive incidents, his or her recollections may serve as a "reality check" for mother, if abuser later minimizes or lies about events.
The child who is treated better by abuser and most likely to be told his justifications for abuse against mother. May be asked to report back on mother's behaviour and be rewarded for doing so with, for example, privileges or absence of harsh treatment. The child who is co-opted to assist in abuse of mother e. The child who tries to prevent violence by actively addressing issues wrongly perceived as triggers, by excelling in school and never arguing, rebelling, misbehaving, or seeking help with problems. The child identified as the cause of family problems, blamed for tension between parents or whose behaviour is used to justify violence.
May have special needs or be a step-child to abuser. Women's centres or abused women's advocacy agencies provide confidential counselling and support and can help women access the legal system. Check the telephone directory for the local crisis line. Some areas have crisis lines specifically for abused women. In Canada, there are emergency shelters, transition houses, safe houses, and second-stage housing facilities. See Shelternet to find one near you. There are 31 shelters on Aboriginal reserves and others serving First Nations families.
These organizations investigate and intervene when a child is or may be in need of protection from abuse or neglect by caregivers. Find information on this topic on page These agencies provide a range of services including assessment and treatment that can include play therapy, parenting guidance and support, and family counselling. The police can lay charges for crimes such as assault and criminal harassment. An emergency system is available in most - but not all - parts of Canada.
Police-based or court-based services help victims of crime. For links to programs across Canada, see Victim services. Most programs accept self-referred and court-ordered clients. The Stop Family Violence has a directory of over Canadian programs. The Stop Family Violence has directories of Canadian services for both victims and perpetrators of family violence. A mother's love, affection, availability, and investment in her children's well being and healthy development are powerful factors to harness in our work helping children.
Each day yields dozens of priceless opportunities for "teachable moments" which foster healing and promote healthy development. But these three strategies are also important interventions. Ending a child's exposure to domestic violence and maltreatment is the single most important way to help children. Severity of violence including frequency and the number of types of maltreatment are statistically correlated to the probability and level of later problems in children.
Footnote 12 Using psychological testing as the measure, most children function in the "normal range" after the exposure to violence stops and they can feel safe. If required, help the family find a safe place to live, a source of income, and other features of daily living to meet basic needs and create stability. Outcomes in children are also statistically correlated with stresses and adversities typically seen in conjunction with domestic violence, such as socio-economic disadvantage, low standard of living, low parental educational level, parental alcohol problems, and child sexual abuse Footnote 8 , Footnote 12 , Footnote 13 , Footnote Support women as mothers by fostering good parenting skills and encouraging them to address any personal issues compromising their parenting e.
Outcomes in children exposed to domestic violence are correlated with family functioning and parenting style including discipline techniques. Footnote 8 , Footnote 13 , Footnote Find a pamphlet with 10 tips for parenting children who lived with domestic violence. Some approaches address the struggles and difficulties children manifest. For example, Project Support helps women whose children have conduct disorder.
Footnote 20 Many approaches are well supported for use with child and adolescent depression. Footnote 1. Because most children living with woman abuse experience other types of abuse, techniques validated for child abuse may also help. Footnote 7. Be aware of how "safety planning" can be experienced by a child who already feels the world is dangerous and unpredictable. In addition to helping women with their own healing, these areas can be helpful. Research on this topic generally suffers from methodological limitations, but the best evidence now available suggests interventions be individualized and logically derived from an understanding of each child's unique situation.
Footnote 8. Woman abuse varies greatly in the forms it takes and in variables such as duration, severity, frequency, and harm caused. Most children who lived with severe woman abuse have experienced direct maltreatment and other traumas as well. Exposure to more than one adversity or trauma elevates concern.
Sometimes a violence-specific intervention is the best course of action while sometimes a symptom-specific intervention is dictated. Determine which patterns of behaviours, emotions or thoughts are concerning to caregivers and teachers. That information can be a guide to intervention planning and case management. You can do the right thing for the right child at the wrong time. Ask yourself if this is the time to intervene with this child using a violence-specific intervention or if other issues must be addressed first.
How individuals remember and are affected by traumatic events depends in part upon their age at the time. Also, coping styles vary with age. Children, teens and also adults may remember past events through the eyes of the age they were at the time. However, they may judge themselves using today's expectations of themselves e. Exposure to adversities over several developmental stages will be more detrimental because negative effects can accumulate.
Our well-meaning efforts to help sometimes reinforce the disempowerment of women and children. We should work together to support women as mothers without penalizing them for the behaviour and choices of an ex-partner. In devising an intervention strategy, service deliverers consider the severity and frequency of violence, look for power and control tactics, and ask about any other adverse experiences affecting the children. While woman abuse can occur without physical assaults, relatively minor incidents such as slapping and pushing can occur once or twice in relationships not otherwise characterized by coercive control tactics.
Woman abuse involves the ongoing, instrumental use of coercive control tactics against a woman by her partner to meet his needs. Physical violence or the threat of it is often present. Marital conflict may be part of an abusive relationship. However, marital conflict characterizes a substantial number of intimate relationships where one will not find woman abuse. The boundaries between marital conflict and woman abuse can be blurred in general population surveys, minimizing the true impact of woman abuse on adult victims and their children.
Also, symmetry between the rates of violence reported by men and women are likely to occur when sporadic violence within the context of marital conflict is lumped together with the patterns of intimidation and threat that characterize woman abuse. Couple therapies appropriate for marital conflict are ineffective for relationships characterized by woman abuse and may increase the risk faced by a woman and her children. Likewise, the reverse is true. Interventions designed for male perpetrators of woman abuse are not appropriate to deal with marital conflict.
New Zealand Medical Journal, Click to enlarge. Other co-occurring challenges potentially affecting the children are ideally considered in planning an intervention for children. Adverse Childhood Experiences Study. Large-scale studies of childhood like the ACE Study help us see that children who live with woman abuse will typically face other challenges as well. The more frequent the physical abuse of a mother in a family, the more likely these are true:.
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A mother's ability to be the best parent she can be may be compromised by the abuse and its emotional and financial consequences. Footnote 2. Statistically, the effect appears cumulative: the more types of victimization and adversities, the longer they last, and the more severe they are, the more profound is the ultimate effect. Children may also be "exposed" to violence in the media like movies and music lyrics , in the news, on the play ground or in school corridors, and some children are exposed to violence in their neighbourhoods.
A child may tell you that someone is hurting him or her, that she worries about someone who may hurt her, or that he is not taken care of properly or supervised at home. If you suspect a child is being abused, at risk of abuse, or not having basic needs met, it is your legal responsibility in most parts of Canada to call the appropriate child protection authority: see page While you may consult a supervisor for guidance, if you heard the child disclose abuse or neglect, you must make the call, and you must call immediately.
Letting the child leave your agency before you make the report can put him or her at risk. A child may tell you that his or her mother is being hurt by her partner. In some parts of Canada, this is explicitly a reason to involve the child protection authorities. Exposure to domestic violence may be seen as a form of emotional harm or as a factor that elevates the likelihood a child will be maltreated directly.
If unsure of the situation in your province or territory, consult your supervisor or ask the local police. Ask the child if others are ever hurt when Mommy gets hurt. If the answer is yes, ask, "who? Failure to act may discourage a child from telling anyone for a long time and place him or her at risk of further harm.
Use active listening. Do not pressure the child to talk. Remember that your role is not to gather evidence or conduct an investigation. Acknowledge the child's feelings with statements such as "sounds like that was scary for you. If a child asks you to keep this secret, it is important to explain that you may need to tell someone whose job it is to help children be safe.
Children often have confused feelings. They may hate the abuse, but have a close bond to the abusive parent and enjoy times spent together. Stress is more likely to be chronic now, and you end up with kids whose brains are overly primed for stress, always metaphorically scanning the horizon for threats. Epigenetics is the study of how genes can be turned on or off with certain environmental cues, stress being one of them.
These changes in their brains, spanning the gamut from genes to behavior, seem to stick with the animals for life. This line of reasoning takes us to some illuminating-but-unethical experiments done by Harry Harlow some 50 years ago. Harlow observed baby monkeys as they were raised by either of two surrogate mothers — one was a wire monkey mannequin covered in soft terry cloth, the other simply made of bare, uncovered wire.
Not surprisingly, when they had a choice, the baby monkeys always chose the terry cloth mother, even when the wire mother was the one that provided milk. It was as if they had never had a mother at all, which of course was essentially the case. This is what will ultimately help their growing brains wire normally, without having to accommodate for some vague sense of impending danger as they develop, which may or may not exist. And creating a stress-free or low-stress environment should start with the parents, and their relationships with each other, friends, and family.
Many people mistake that, says Code, and errantly pour their energy into helicoptering their kids.
No need to pump any stress hormones or turn the stress genes on here. We mistakenly believe that virtual social networks are our new community, but these pale in comparison to chats on the street, gossip on the phone, or even happy hour after work. The two-martini lunch was probably not such a bad thing for our mental health. Of course, this is not a reality for most, but the point is to make social time an important part of our lives again. Some of us were dealt good hands, and many of us were dealt crummy hands.