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By Darian Towner, CPN House of Hope Prevention Specialist

Some of the biggest victims of domestic violence are actually the smallest.

Childhood domestic violence occurs when a person grows up in a home where violence between their parents or violence towards a parent takes place. Statistics from the Journal of Family Psychology indicate that more than 15 million children in the United States live in homes where domestic violence occurred at least once. That is 15 million little ones who are our future that are subjected to potential lifelong effects to their health, mindset, behavior and relationships.

Some women with children may consider the question, “Is it better to stay in an abusive relationship rather than raise my children as a single parent?”

The answer is absolutely not. If it is possible to safely leave the abusive relationship, that is the best choice for both mom and children. A safe, stable and loving environment is where children thrive. An abusive household is unable to create such an environment. Even if children are not physically seeing the abuse occur, they can both hear and sense it, which can still impact them negatively.

CDV can have resounding effects, both short-term and long-term, on surviving children. These effects differ depending on factors such as age when the child was exposed to violence, duration of time violence occurred and the child’s resiliency level. It is important to note that children are naturally quite resilient, so it is possible for some children to live in homes with domestic violence and experience few negative effects.

The short-term impact can show in ways such as difficulty learning, limited social skills, intense feelings of guilt, and exhibitions of violent, risky or delinquent behaviors. The Child Welfare Information Gateway reports younger children may regress and exhibit behavior atypical for their age, such as bed-wetting, thumb-sucking or increased crying.

One consequence that many CDV survivors experience is repeating the cycle of domestic violence as adults. Studies by the World Health Organization show girls raised in these circumstances can have a higher likelihood of entering abusive relationships as adults, while boys can become abusers later in life. Additionally, survivors of CDV are at a greater risk for serious health problems as adults. These health problems include diabetes, obesity, heart disease, poor self-esteem, depression and anxiety according to a 2015 study in The Sociologist Quarterly.

Domestic violence is already considered a silent epidemic, but CDV could be considered even more hushed.

Former President Bill Clinton is quoted as saying, “I came to accept the secrets of our house as normal … I never talked to anyone about them,” when discussing the domestic violence in his home as an adolescent. President Clinton’s statement acknowledges the silence that so deeply permeates our society surrounding issues such as CDV. One way to help break that silence is to use your voice; speak up when you suspect domestic violence occurs in the lives of loved ones, and speak out against domestic violence in your community.

If your children or children you know have witnessed domestic violence, help them heal with these practical steps. To begin, it is important to continuously find ways to make the child feel safe. Communication is vital, and talking to children about their fears as well as emphasizing healthy relationships and boundaries is important. Also, helping children identify who in their life can act as a support system can strengthen the child’s resiliency, which can then boost the child’s recovery. If you discover negative side effects or behaviors are growing in strength, reaching out and seeking professional help may benefit the child greatly.

If you are experiencing intimate partner violence, sexual assault or stalking and have questions, please contact House of Hope’s crisis line at 405-878-4673 or visit us online at facebook.com/cpnhouseofhope.