How to protect your children from domestic violence

Abused child on the floor
Last Updated on March 9, 2023 by Carlos Lopez

It has been documented that the impact of domestic violence on children and young people can last into adulthood (and may even be replicated later in their new families).

There are domestic abuse prevention services that can offer emotional and practical support from staff who specialize in these issues.

What can we consider as child abuse?

Child abuse refers to any emotional, physical or sexual aggravation or negligence by an adult, who may or may not be a relative, towards someone who has not yet reached the age of 18.

It includes, therefore, any type of action or omission that becomes a wrong or potential wrong to a child.

Adult perpetrators of this abuse could be: parents, other family members, other people in charge (temporary or permanent) such as sports coaches, teachers, tutors of extracurricular activities, etc.

Are the effects of domestic violence the same for all children?

Your children may suffer short- and long-term negative effects in behavioral, cognitive and emotional areas as a result of domestic abuse by family members (not necessarily parents). Each child will have a different response to the trauma generated and some of them may even be resistant to it and not reflect the negative effect of those experiences.

There are different responses of infants when they are part of domestic abuse and these may vary according to many factors including (among others): age, sex, race, and their stage of development at the time of abuse.

It is very important to note that the responses observed may also be caused by situations other than domestic abuse.

Remember that children are individuals and may respond in a variety of ways when they are observers (active or passive) of domestic abuse.

Some of the observed effects (described in a 2005 report) could be:

  • Development of anxiety or depression
  • They become easily frightened
  • They may have difficulty sleeping
  • Development of low self-esteem
  • Have recurrent nightmares or flashbacks
  • Develop eating disorders
  • Tantrums and problems with peers and teachers at school
  • In some cases, they may complain of physical symptoms such as stomach aches, headaches and may even wet the bed during the night
  • They develop constant aggression or in other cases, they internalize their distress and isolate themselves from others
  • In adolescents, it has been observed that they may run away from home, start consuming alcohol or drugs, they may also self-harm by overdosing on medication or cutting themselves
  • Some behave as if they are much younger than they are in reality

How you should talk to your children about domestic violence

When talking to your children about domestic abuse, you should consider explaining the following to them:

  • That the violence they see in their home (or their friends’ homes) is not okay
  • Guide them to deal with problems in non-violent and positive ways
  • If they are involved in domestic violence, they can get help from others to prevent it from happening again
  • Make sure your children know that the abuse is not their fault
  • If you see that your children are sad or angry about the situation, have them draw pictures or keep a personal journal
  • Make it clear to them that they can always communicate with you if they are angry or in trouble

Keeping your children safe from domestic abuse

If you or your children are in danger, you should call 911 and get help immediately.

When you seek help to get out of the abusive relationship you are in, you are doing what is best for you and your children.

If you find yourself in a relationship with abusive behaviors and you think something violent may happen to them, here’s what to do:

Create a safety phrase

A safety phrase (or verbal code) will let your children know if they should leave the room or the house at that moment, to go to a neighbor’s house or another area of the house to make a call to the police (911).

When creating this phrase, make sure they understand that its use is only for emergency situations where a violent situation is imminent and they should seek help.

Arrange for your children’s safety

Ask a friend (it can also be a trusted family member) to watch your children while you seek shelter when you are escaping from the abusive person and the relationship you have with them.

Many shelters organized by different institutions will allow you to stay with your children. Find more information on sites such as DomesticShelters.

Make a safety plan

Create a “safety bag” and hide it in a place where you can easily access it if you need it. Some of the things you should have in there are: your children’s birth certificates, Social Security cards, passports, their favorite toys, their medications and a few changes of clothes.

Find more information on how you should keep yourself safe at this link.

Now that you are with your children in a place safe from your abusive partner, it is time for you to think about a divorce process that will allow you to live freely while keeping your children safe and away from those emotionally and physically damaging situations.

Domestic Violence Lawyer in Washington, D.C.

If you or your children have been a victim of domestic violence and want to start a legal process, trust the team at Lopez Law, we can help you and your children obtain justice and a better life. Schedule your consultation today!