Children learn that abuse is the answer
By Efrain Gonzalez, MA, LPC
Domestic violence is a big issue that impacts our community’s children. When I talk with children at the hospital they don't tell me there is “domestic violence” at home. Instead, they tell me horrific stories of nightmares, being woken up in the middle of the night by screams and yells and how they hit a sibling because mommy and daddy fight like that.
Parents sometimes believe that as long as they are behind closed doors and the children are in another room it is safe to let their guards down and start with the yelling and other forms of fighting. Little do they know that walls become paper thin in these moments of anger and their children hear everything. Children don't always have the ability to understand why parents are fighting. They only hear mommy or daddy screaming and crying and that is enough for them to know something bad is happening.
When children witness acts of domestic violence, they are taught that fighting, both verbally and physically, is okay. As a therapist, a behavior I see at the hospital is children fighting with their siblings or peers, at home and school for no apparent reason other than they were frustrated. When asked where a child learned to fight, he or she sometimes says, "mommy and daddy do it." Other times, parents discover the child witnessed domestic violence in the past.
Children may become fearful that one or both parents will get hurt. Many cope by keeping their feelings to themselves, which often leads to depression. These kids don't sleep well at night, have nightmares or night terrors, can become very withdrawn and may start urinating in bed. Their worry may become so intense that they refuse to go to school.
Domestic violence is a cycle. If the cycle is not broken, the probability of the child continuing the violence is higher than normal. Parents need to understand violence is not the answer to their problems and only teaches their children how to be the exact same way. Parents need to provide their children a stable environment for healthy growth physically and mentally. If parents find themselves in a domestic violence situation, please reach out and ask for help. Help is only a phone call away.
Originally featured on the MySA.com Health Channel.