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Thursday, June 3, 2010

T3 - Effect of Domestic Violence on Children

If you have a character who has been abused in some way as a child, then you need to remember this sentence:

Children exposed to family violence are more likely to develop lasting social, emotional, psychological, and behavioral problems than children who are not.

I'd also remember this:

The longer the conflict goes on--and the more severe it gets--the more lasting the impact on the child.

Notice that I wrote "the impact" instead of "possible impact" or "potential impact." Research backs this statement up.

Children will live in fear when there is domestic violence going on in the home, whether that violence is ever directed at them or not. Witnessing the violence is just as harmful as being physically abused. Studies show that if a child lives in a violent home, they are more at risk for abuse and neglect.

What characteristics do you need to know about, then, to write about one of these children? I want to look at four categories that will help flesh out these poor, traumatized children very realistically in your novel.

  • Acting out or withdrawing
  • Being aggressive (younger kids) or passive-aggressive (older kids)
  • Refusing to go to school
  • Parentified behavior (acting like the parent; like a caretaker)
  • Lying to avoid confrontation
  • Getting very defensive if confronted
  • Excessive attention seeking
  • Bedwetting and nightmares
  • Reduced academic performance (and intellectual capacity)
  • Manipulating situations
  • Isolating from friends and family
  • Stormy interpersonal relationships
  • Difficulty trusting anyone (especially adults)
  • Poor anger management
  • Poor problem solving skills
  • Excessive social involvement to avoid home
  • Passivity with peers or the opposite, bullying
  • Can exploit relationships as a perpetrator or be exploited as a victim
  • Complaints of headaches/stomachaches/other somatic pains
  • Nervousness
  • Anxiousness
  • Short attention span/difficulty concentrating
  • Tired or lethargic
  • Frequently ill
  • Poor personal hygiene
  • Developmental regression (like in potty training or thumb sucking)
  • High risk play
  • Grief for family and personal losses
  • Shame/guilt/self blame
  • Conflicting emotions toward parents (love & disgust, to name a few) confuse them
  • Fear of being abandoned
  • Fear of expressing their emotions
  • Fear of the unknown or sustaining a personal injury
  • Lots and lots of anger
  • Depression/feelings of hopelessness and powerlessness
  • Embarrassment
The nice little flowchart above illustrates all these effects in a colorful graph. Click on it to enlarge.

Not all of you writers out there have a currently abused child in your book, but I bet several of you have heroes or heroines who were abused as children. Think about how the above indicators would manifest in an adult. What if they never got help when they were a child? What kind of wounds would this adult carry around with him or her? What might that look like?

Since this was more of a general overview, next Thursday, we'll look at more age-specific indicators of children exposed to domestic violence so that you'll have even more research to back up your writing. That will be my final post on this subject unless it comes up in a character assessment.

My anniversary is tomorrow...5 years! I might just have to whip up a post reflecting on the first 5 years. What a glorious ride. :)

Wordle: signature


Jessica Brown said...

Congratulations on 5 years!

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

always, mary.

and thanks, jessica. :)

Julia M. Reffner said...

Congratulations, Jeannie!

And thanks so much for this series. Very timely for me as my heroine is an abused wife who escapes a cult. Its been quite helpful!

Shannon said...

Very helpful for me, too, as quite a few of my characters have suffered abuse as children.

So do you know any good book references that really showcase the issues of a child coping with abuse? Either a fictional account or a non-fiction book on the effects of abuse on childhood development?

Jeannie Campbell, LMFT said...

shannon - not off the top of my head. i know some children's therapeutic books that deal with that issue...something you'd read to a child who is experiencing physical or sexual abuse, but i'm not sure if that's what you're looking for?

Cherry Dulguime said...

I'm working on my thesis. Your work has been such a great help and I just want to say thanks. Congratulations on your fifth year! God bless you more ;-)

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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.