Does your child live with violence at home? Certain exposures he can do without.
Children's exposure to domestic violence ranges from seeing physical altercations and attacks between their parents in the home; to hearing the screaming and yelling; to seeing objects thrown or broken; to seeing doors broken and fists through walls; to smelling flesh as burns are inflicted; to witnessing the aftermath such as a distraught parent or blood or bruises or physical destruction of belongings.
The effects of such exposure on children can be devastating. Depending on the age of the child, the effects can vary. Babies can be inconsolable and have difficulty sleeping or feeding. Toddlers may have problems with language development. They may be overly aggressive or overly passive. They may demonstrate poor attachment to their parents. Preschoolers exposed to violence at home may also be overly aggressive, or overly passive. They may avoid age appropriate exploration and they may show regressive behaviour such as toileting accidents and problems. They may also begin to show traits of oppositional behaviour. School age children may presents with learning problems, difficulty with attention and symptoms of anxiety. They may appear fearful of other adults or alternately, overly friendly so as to minimize their perceived risk of upsetting the adult and experiencing wrath. Teenage children can appear anxious or depressed. They may have significant school problems and attendance problems. Teenagers may surface with drug and alcohol problems. As they form relationships, boys are at risk of using harmful control strategies to maintain the relationship whereas girls may be passive in their relationship thus tolerating abusive behaviour.
Children exposed not just to violence between parents, but also to fights and screaming matches between them, can be severely affected.
How much a child is affected depends upon the age of the child and the type, severity, frequency and duration of exposure to fights between their parents.
So, what can you do? The first thing as a parent is to make sure you don't fight in front of your children, no matter how grave the provocation. If you are a victim of violence or abuse, witnessing even one episode of a parent hitting another can be very traumatic for the child, and witnessing this over and over again can scar him for life. If you are in such a situation, you should definitely first look out to see if you can have your child stay over with a relative or with a shelter. If this is not possible, then send your child to a boarding school. Once your child is safely tucked away, start working on plans for yourself. Are you going to live in this abusive system forever, or is it time you said, "Enough!" Only you can make the decision.
Often, mothers don't walk away for the sake of their children. They feel it is better to be trapped in a bad marriage, than to deprive a child of one parent. It's best that those who think like this, understand one thing: it is BETTER for your child to live in a peaceful environment with one parent who loves him, than it is for him to live with parents who constantly fight each other. Also, making your child witness your husband hitting you is possibly the worst thing you could do for him, so if you think you are staying on in an abusive marriage for the sake of your child, you need to re-think.
It is every child's birthright to grow up free from harm and also free from exposure to the harm of others. Such exposure can have devastating effects on the child and can contribute to their experiencing similar problems as adults.
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- The Indiaparenting Team