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Section 1
Family Violence

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As you know, discussions about domestic violence often focus on what causes the violence to occur. However, these causes are complex and many professionals disagree regarding exactly what the causes are. Instead of focusing on causation, this section will focus on what I consider to be an overlooked and major consequence of domestic violence: the impact on the children who live with it.

Well over 3.5 million children are at risk of exposure to parental violence each year. However, as you may know, many only consider the immediate consequences of this violence, such as physical injury, police protection, temporary emergency shelter, and medical treatment. The children are often overlooked in these situations. They become the unintended victims.

Let's look at three overlooked consequences of violence in a family I recently treated who was staying in a local shelter. Rosa, age 22, arrived at the shelter with her three children: Maria, age 8; Ricardo, age 5; and Miguel, 13 months. Here's how Rosa's three children became the unintended victims of her battering relationship with her husband.

3 Overlooked Consequences

♦ Consequence #1: Role Reversal.
The first dynamic I noticed when observing this family was the false maturity of Rosa's oldest child, Maria. Maria was only 8-years old, yet she acted as an adult, which as you may know is often referred to as a parentified child. Maria stated, "I feed baby Miguel, discipline my younger brother Ricardo, and run the errands to buy diapers or whatever else we need. A lot of times I get into fights with my mom over which one of us should feed baby Miguel. I always think it should be me."

With Maria, I felt this role reversal was a consequence of the violence she had witnessed between her parents. I asked Maria if she felt it was not acceptable or safe for her to behave like a child. Maria stated that she felt safer when she was in control of things. I assured Maria that both she and her mother and brothers were safe in the shelter. I asked her what she thought about spending time with another eight-year old at the shelter and letting the childcare center take care of Miguel for an afternoon.

♦ Consequence #2: Slowed Motor Development.
I noticed a second sometimes overlooked consequence in the children by watching Ricardo, who, at the age of five, should have been running and jumping and playing. On the contrary, however, Ricardo could not run, throw, or even catch a ball. When I asked Ricardo how he liked to play, he stated, "I don't know, I don't think I know how. Dad always makes me stay in my room when he's home, so I never see the other kids." I found that Ricardo had boundless energy waiting to be released because of his years spent as a virtual prisoner in his own home. The staff devised a structured outdoor program for Ricardo, and soon he was running, jumping, and climbing, like a five-year old boy should have been.

♦ Consequence #3: Somatic Complaints
In addition to Role Reversal and Slowed Motor Development, there is the Overlooked Consequence of Somatic Complaints. While discussing the violence Maria, age 8, witnessed in her family, she anxiously bit her fingernails and pulled at her hair. Maria stated, "I leave to go to the nurse's office at school a lot because of headaches and stomach aches." Have you also found that children such as Maria will somaticize their emotions about the violence they witnessed?

As you know, the children do not realize that their emotions of fear and anxiety are being vented in these physical behaviors. But by listening I find I am often able to better understand what the child is experiencing but is unable to communicate with words. I asked Maria if she thought her stomach aches were worse if her mother and father had fought the night before. Maria stated, "I guess that could be. Usually when they have a big fight, I can't stop thinking about it the next day. I worry about baby Miguel and my mom."

In this section, we have discussed the 3 possibly overlooked consequences of role reversal, slowed motor development, and somatic complaints that children may often suffer from as the unintended victims of domestic violence. Section 2 will provide you with three techniques for these as well as other consequences.
Reviewed 2023

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Harman, J. J., Kruk, E., & Hines, D. A. (2018). Parental alienating behaviors: An unacknowledged form of family violence. Psychological Bulletin, 144(12), 1275–1299.

Kennedy, A. C., Bybee, D., Sullivan, C. M., & Greeson, M. (2010). The impact of family and community violence on children’s depression trajectories: Examining the interactions of violence exposure, family social support, and gender. Journal of Family Psychology, 24(2), 197–207.

Kita, S., Hayashi, M., Umeshita, K., Tobe, H., Uehara, N., Matsunaga, M., & Kamibeppu, K. (2020). Intimate partner violence and maternal child abuse: The mediating effects of mothers’ postnatal depression, mother-to-infant bonding failure, and hostile attributions to children’s behaviors. Psychology of Violence, 10(3), 279–289.

Kobayashi, J. E., Bernard, N. K., Nuttall, A. K., Levendosky, A. A., Bogat, G. A., & Lonstein, J. S. (2021). Intimate partner violence and positive parenting across early childhood: Comparing self-reported and observed parenting behavior. Journal of Family Psychology, 35(6), 745–755.

Levendosky, A. A., Bogat, G. A., & Huth-Bocks, A. C. (2011). The influence of domestic violence on the development of the attachment relationship between mother and young child. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 28(4), 512–527.

What are three sometimes overlooked consequences of battering relationships from which children may suffer? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 2
Table of Contents