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Effects of domestic violence on children’s social and emotional development Essay


Children between the ages of zero and six year are continuously learning and developing socially and emotionally. For an appropriate development, a child needs love and care from both parents. In the case of families experiencing domestic violence, the social and emotional development of children brought put in such families is affected negatively. Psychological wellness of the child is affected at early age and later in life.


Domestic violence has been an issue in many societies in the world but considered as a family matter, it’s only of late that legal proceedings can be taken on an offender. Since women movements in 1970s, domestic violence has become a legal matter calling for police, courts and judicial process intervention.

When one is talking of domestic violence, what comes in mind is wife or husband violence; in most case women are on the receiving end, they are subjected to physical, psychological and emotional violence. However the scope of domestic violence extend far beyond this believe to include child abuse and the effects that such abuse have on a child.

Family violence is a term that can be used to describe the various forms of violence that happen within a family set up. A family is a sociological unit which includes parents and children. The most common types of violence within the family are wife abuse and child abuse. Violence in this sense may include slaps, pushes, sexual abuse, battering, and use of abusive words. A research conducted by in United States of America, shown that each year over 3.3 children suffer from domestic violence.

The recognition of this is affected by lack of data that can be used for the analysis. The effect is mostly psychological, emotional and sometimes physical. The most noted one is physical and thus emotional and psychological remains not recorded (Shaffer, 2009). This paper discusses how children social and emotional development is affected by exposure to domestic violence. It will focus on children below the age of six years.

Child emotional and social development and domestic violence

Between the ages of Zero years to six years, a child is constantly learning and developing emotional and social health/character. At this age, he has no much choice on what and who to believe. Parents have the burden of developing a healthy emotional and social need of the child. The environment that a child grows in affects his social and emotional development.

Socialisation factors dominate in his character building as well as personality. The family is the first socialisation stage that a child gets. What the child observes is registered in its mind and goes a long way in forming attitude, behaviours and feeling about a certain issues at hand. If the family is undergoing domestic violence, the child mind will be exposed to violence and will form perception and attitudes towards such.

For example if a child is brought up in a family that the husband dominated and when he battles the wife it is generally accepted; a male child from such a home will develop a believe that women are inferior than men and thus they should be bitten. At this tender age a child is not able to differentiate what is good and what is wrong but learns from what surrounds him or her.

Impact of domestic volence on the emotional regulation of children

Rigterink, Fainsilber , and Hessler in the Journal of interpersonal violence, observe that early exposure of children to domestic violence influences their emotion regulation abilities. To evaluate the effect, the trio used baseline vagal tone (VT) method as the measuring parameter/unit.

They observed that the effects have a long-lasting effect in a child’s life and affects its social and emotional health. The research by the trio went further and evaluated other effects that domestic violence has on trajectory of children’s physiological regulatory abilities; they observed that in preschool and lower classes, children who come from families experiencing domestic violence have low concentration in class and are more likely to be violent in class (Zerk, Mertin & Proeve, 2009).

Expressing ones emotions is an important aspect in human growth and development. In domestically violent homes, violence may sometime erupt when one of the parents has expressed his/her emotions. The child is learning all this and has seen where the problem came from. His mind will convince him/her that violence is as a result of someone expressing his feeling. In the future the child decides not to air out their views and feelings. This results to children who are emotionally troubled.

They don’t know when to express their feeling and fear if they do, they might be subjected to violence. Good communication is an element of how well a person can express himself. If the child at tender age fears expressing his feeling, the same will affect him in the future. A research done by Joseph, Govender & Bhagwanjee, in 2006 showed that in episodes of violence children are left to wonder which side they should take.

It said that girls cried openly in the presence of the parents but boys cried secretly when they reflect on what was happening to their parents. This is a retaliatory reaction; the children in the research said they felt like hitting the abusing parent but instead ended up in this form of retaliatory response. From a different angle, this is grudge that the child has created with one parent which affects their relationship in the future (Zerk, Mertin & Proeve, 2009)

In extreme conditions, children from these homes shows similar characteristics like those seen in children living in areas of total war. Their condition can be termed as post-traumatic stress.

In the case of wife-husband violence, always, one parent will be the offender and the other one the victim; in an ideal situation, a child needs the love of a both parents. In this case he will lack either because the offender feels that he is not obligated to love the child. His/her mind is occupied with what they are going through with the spouse and not the care of the child. He/she is not able to provide the needed emotional support to his/her child.

The other parent heart is troubled and cannot give care to the child. Eventually the child suffers. Since the brain of a child is young and willing to learn, the child looks for love in other places like television; which may not give him/her the right moral teaching. The agony of the child goes further since shelters available for battled women or men do not take care of children. The child is left hanging on the balance not to know whether to stay or move with the offended parent.

At this moment, the child psychological, social and emotional stability is affected. The child is exposed to making lifetime decisions at an age below six years. Training to domestic violence care givers overlook the effect the violence might have hand on children and thus they end up healing the family but leaving scars and unsolved questions in children. This emotionally and socially disturbs a child in such homes (Linda and Alison 2009).

Impact on social development with peers and other adults

A family is expected to be a unit of peace where a child gets emotional care and benefits from the parents. It forms the background of human socialisation. The child is taught on basic interaction strategies at home. When a child is brought up in family that do not respect children rights but goes ahead and abuses the child; the child development is influenced by such actions.

All forms of child abuse have long lasting effects on a child. It may be physical or emotional. Emotional violence is registered in a child life for a long period of time and keeps haunting them in one way or another. This influences how he interacts with other peers.

When parents are fighting in the presence of the children, the child out of fear starts to cry. He/she does not know what to do, who to support, who call help from. The child gets emotionally troubled (Anderson & Aviles, 2006). “We are what we were socialized to be”, this statement observes that if a child has been socialised in a violent family, chances are high that it will develop certain attitude towards violence and may end up being violent also.

It is appreciated that there might not be much statistical data regarding the number and age of effect, the truth stands that children are affected by domestic violence. Infants , preschool going children as well as children are affected and portray different responses which stems from the family background that they have come from. Young children exposed to family violence at tender age show an increased irritation, sleep disturbances and excessive aggression; this stems from what they see in life.

Being aggressive and not able to control ones anger is a show of a person/child who is emotionally disturbed,. When this happens it does not end at childhood age but goes to affect the child till adulthood. Children tend to practice what they see in television, homes and in the society they are living in. This explains the aggressiveness and anger that those from families undergoing domestic violence. The emotional difficulty can be seen at ages below the age of six years (Anderson & Aviles, 2006).

John Bowlby’s theory of internal working models

The theory states that for health social and emotional development, a child requires the care and emotional attachment of their parents. This lack in the case of domestic violence a child emotional development is drastically affected. At this tender age, a child has not interacted much with the outside world. He gets comfort and safety in its parents. His/her mind is opened to learn from the surrounding. In the case the family has had violence, the child experiences lack of trust in either parent.

He is not sure of who to trust. Parents are the most reliable people that a child can expect care, love and emotional needs satisfaction. In the case that the family is in constant violence, the child is not given attention and it’s emotional and safety needs are not met. These results to children do not trust their parents . this has a long effect in the child’s life. In later years trusting even one’s spouse will be a problem (Anderson & Aviles, 2006).

In most/all cases, in the case of violence, there is always an exchange of harsh words among the spouse or to a child. These things register in the mind of the child and in the future he may take them and believe that is the situation. For example if in violence the mother of a child refers his husband as useless, the child is likely to believe that his father is useless. This believes may haunt him in the future where in case his father does something out of the ordinary the child thinks he is doing that out of being useless.

When a family is undergoing domestic violence, both the parents are psychologically, emotionally and socially unsettled. They are having lot of unresolved businesses between themselves in what can be said to be a competition to fight for children’s favour. In this situation the child is neglected.

Neglect is in the form of provide for a child’s basic and emotional need. The parents may become unable to provide physical and emotional care to their children’s. Neglected children are depressed and emotionally troubled. They feel they are not treated well by the same people they trust for this care.

Alcohol has been used as an escapist method by parents whose families do not have peace. On the other hand the drunken parent cannot take care of his children effectively financially and emotionally. This results to neglected children. In later years, adolescence, the children experience constant emotional pain which can be shown on competent face towards the outside world. The child is always fearful and suspicious of the world he/she is living in (Carretta, 2008)

Learning theory of development

The theory states that development is an individual is affected by the socialization environment that he is living in. Children under the age of six years are constantly learning and their character is developing. They need emotional and social support to make them better human beings in the future.

If they are brought up in families which have constant domestic violence, they lack the much needed care from their parents and end up emotionally troubled. When they are relating with other kids whether in school or at home, they are affected by the feeling that they are inferior; in class work, the children do not understand as fast as they are expected to be absorbing.

This is because their mind is not set. They do not have peace of mind. To them the world is not being fair. When it comes with interaction with other children in games and other social activities, these children may be outdrawn or when playing he portrays aggressiveness, this may lead to other kinds negative perception towards the child a move that make the victim child more emotionally troubled (Fantuzzo, Fusco, Mohr & Perry, 2007).

Implications for an early childhood educator

An early child educator is the one who is responsible of early teaching of a child in formal education; it is important for him to know the signs and symptoms of a child who comes from families with domestic violence. After doing so he will be able to handle the child professionally in class.

When children are continuously seeing their parents fight, they are always feeling that they should come to the rescue of the victim. However, they are incapable of. Boys are affected even higher, they feel their weaknesses are being utilised by the violent parent.

The children feel anxious and powerlessness. They have to look for a coping strategy which they result to denial. In these situations to cope with the feelings, they use denial as a coping strategy to traumatic situation. An example is when a child is used to seeing parents in constant fights, he may say “that’s normal” such an attitude results from denial. This denial cognitive strategy results to a person who accepts pain even when they are not legitimate (Zerk, Mertin & Proeve, 2009).

Abraham Maslow, in his theory of hierarchy of needs, quotes psychological need as one human need. Fear is an element of psychological need. When a child seeing his parents in constant battle, the child fears that the same may happen to him/her. A violent partner threatens a family and the child lives in constant fear.

The panic caused shapes the attitude and psychological needs of the child. He always feels that his life is threatened. In case there is only one parent who is violent, the child feels threatened by the parent; ambivalence, the child starts taking sides in the family. He may in the future respond differently to the two parents. He is not sure who he can trust and why. This affects the emotional health of the child (Carretta, 2008).

How can the effect of domestic violence be changed

The effect that domestic violence especially those not directly on a child have been ignored for a long period of time. The focus has been domestic violence which considers the case of parties concerned (husband and wife) and has left the effects that this violence has on children from such families.

Children issues are talked when direct child abuse is being considered. The bitter truth is that children are also affected by domestic violence. At infant and tender age, the effects can be seen in the way the child preserves life. He may have negative attitudes and cannot control his/her emotions. When parents are fighting, the child suffers in silence and this have an effect on its cognitive development. He feels that life is not favouring him; he results to denial.

Lack of data and adequate research in the area have made psychologist and persons concerned about the welfare of relations ignore the need to incorporate child counselling in the event of a domestic child. The child emotional and social life is challenged.

The societies have the burden of understanding and appreciating this effect and should devise measures to atop the trend. For instance, during courtship and marriage counselling’s, couples should be trained on how not to fight or resolve their issues in an arguing manner.

They may for example take the bedroom strategy where they will withdraw from the children when solving issues. In the case of violence, counsellors should appreciate that children are equally affected by the violence and should have a section with the child. They should build confidence and give the child emotional support to face life after that (Horton, 2008).


Between the ages of zero to six years, a child is constantly learning new things. His social and emotional characters are developing. The development of these characters is influenced by the exposure that he gets from his parents. When brought up in a family that experiences violence, the child social and emotional development is affected. Domestic violence has been in the society since people started living together. Having differences in family is healthy but how a couple resolves the differences is where the problem lies.

In case of domestic violence, it is not the couple alone which suffer but their children too are affected socially and emotionally. What the child observes is registered in its mind and goes a long way in forming attitude, behaviours and feeling about a certain issues at hand. If the family is undergoing domestic violence, the child mind will be exposed to violence and will form perception and attitudes towards such. When exposed to violence his attitude, personality, behaviour and cognitive development is affected.


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Zerk, D., Mertin, P., & Proeve, M. (2009). Domestic Violence and Maternal Reports of Young Children’s Functioning. Journal of Family Violence, 24(7), 423-432. doi:10.1007/s10896-009-9237-4.

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"Effects of domestic violence on children's social and emotional development." IvyPanda, 17 Jan. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/effects-of-domestic-violence-on-childrens-social-and-emotional-development/.

1. IvyPanda. "Effects of domestic violence on children's social and emotional development." January 17, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/effects-of-domestic-violence-on-childrens-social-and-emotional-development/.


IvyPanda. "Effects of domestic violence on children's social and emotional development." January 17, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/effects-of-domestic-violence-on-childrens-social-and-emotional-development/.


IvyPanda. 2019. "Effects of domestic violence on children's social and emotional development." January 17, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/effects-of-domestic-violence-on-childrens-social-and-emotional-development/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Effects of domestic violence on children's social and emotional development'. 17 January.

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