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Section 7
Children's Exposure to Intimate Partner Violence

Question 7 | Test | Table of Contents

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In the last section, we discussed the Yo-Yo Syndrome and the use of clustering.

This section will discuss how children can be used as silent weapons between violent partners as part of the Yo-Yo Syndrome and how they become the unintended victims of domestic violence.

As you are well aware, by manipulating their children as objects to cause pain and intimidation in the partner, children can quickly become silent weapons within a violent family. I have found there are 3 bullets, so to speak, that come from using children as weapons. These three bullets are: Control, Blame, and Alienation. Is this what you have observed as well?

Using Children as Weapons: 3 Bullets
I recently treated a family that had been separated since Alice, the mother, received a Protective Order against her husband, Nate. In front of the children, Nate had threatened Alice with a kitchen knife. Since the time of Alice and Nate's separation, their three children, aged 9, 11, and 12, were being used as silent weapons between the couple.

♦ Bullet #1: Control
First, let's look at the how the children were used as silent weapons to fire Bullet #1: Control.
Like many batterers, Nate threatened to kidnap the children and seek custody if Alice didn't drop the charges against him and allow him to move back home. Are you currently treating a child who is aware he or she is being used in a custody threat?

♦ Bullet #2: Blame
In addition to using children to fire the Bullet of Control, as you know, children can also be used as silent weapons to fire Bullet #2: Blame. When Jenny, age 11, asked her father why he wasn't at home anymore, Nate took the opportunity to make her believe her mother was to blame. Nate answered her by saying, "Jenny, I don't live at home because mommy doesn't love me anymore. And mommy called the police and said that I hit her even though I never did." Are you treating a child who is caught in the blame game between his or her parents?

♦ Bullet #3: Alientation
By using children to fire the bullet of Blame, children can easily be set up for Bullet #3: Alientation. Nate found ways to make spending time with him more appealing than time with their mother. He bought a video game system for Danny, age 12, that he knew Alice couldn't afford to buy. Think of a child you are currently treating for which the batterer has alienated his children against their mother by perhaps allowing them to escape their mother's rules and discipline.

I have found that children who are turned against their mothers first act very proud for getting in good with their father. As you know, this is often known as identifying with the aggressor. However, beneath this mask of pride I, most probably like you, have found the children to be frightened, confused, and self-hating. Danny, the oldest, was very aware that his father was trying to buy their affections and alienate him against his mother.

♦ Technique: Gestalt Dialogue Perspective
To help children such as Danny and Jenny, I use a Gestalt Dialogue Perspective technique. The Dialogue portrays an event from more than one perspective at a time. Danny and Jenny wrote or stated a dialogue between themselves and a family member, between different parts of themselves, or between the client at a younger age and the client now. Jenny chose to write a dialogue between two different parts of herself, "me, when I'm with Dad" and "me, when I'm with Mom." This written dialogue promoted openness between Jenny and me, and I found that her responses on paper were more honest than an actual conversation.

This section has discussed the three bullets of control and upset, blame, and alienation, and the Dialogue technique that I have found useful in treating children used as silent weapons. Are you currently treating a child who is being used as a silent weapon between parents? If so, what steps are you taking to help the child?
Reviewed 2023

Domestic Violence

- Huecker, M. R., King, K. C., Jordan, G. A., & Smock, W. (2023). Domestic Violence. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing.


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.

Jouriles, E. N., McDonald, R., Vu, N. L., & Sargent, K. S. (2016). Children’s exposure to intimate partner violence: Should sexual coercion be considered? Journal of Family Psychology, 30(4), 503–508.

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.

Liebschutz, J. M., Buchanan-Howland, K., Chen, C. A., Frank, D. A., Richardson, M. A., Heeren, T. C., Cabral, H. J., & Rose-Jacobs, R. (2018). Childhood Trauma Questionnaire (CTQ) correlations with prospective violence assessment in a longitudinal cohort. Psychological Assessment, 30(6), 841–845.

Renner, L. M., & Boel-Studt, S. (2017). Physical family violence and externalizing and internalizing behaviors among children and adolescents. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 87(4), 474–486.

Westbrook, T. R., & Harden, B. J. (2010). Pathways among exposure to violence, maternal depression, family structure, and child outcomes through parenting: A multigroup analysis. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 80(3), 386–400.

What is a technique used to treat children that are used as silent weapons? To select and enter your answer go to Test.

Section 8
Table of Contents