According to recent studies, domestic violence has increased during the pandemic, as victims have been forced to share close quarters with their abusers. During a recent zoom conference, Dr. LaTonya Wood, the Director of clinical training at Pepperdine University, spoke about the long-term mental health impact on children who have witnessed domestic violence. Woods explained that children in most cases are considered witnesses instead of victims of domestic violence which is the first problem.
“Some of the factors that impact the mental health outcomes of children exposed to abuse and domestic violence depend on what age and stage of development they are in, when the violence occurs and how long it lasts.” Woods said, noting how infants and toddlers are affected when they witness abuse when they are first learning to walk and talk.” At this stage, you will notice a delay in their language, or they may revert to potty accidents during the day and night. They may also develop a fear of being alone. Preschoolers will see an increase of behavioral problems such as temper tantrums and a high rise in aggression.”
Woods also talks about how kids can develop various mental health issues such as anxiety, separation anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression. Woods explains how once kids reach the adolescent stage; they begin to show signs of heightened aggression to their peers and parents because of their social learning at home.
“What has been modeled for them and demonstrated is problems are solved through aggression, emotions are expressed through aggression, needs are met through aggression,” Woods said. “This is a significant predictor of adolescent abuse behavior, particularly in males and a significant predictor in victimization in intimate relationships by both boys and girls.”
Woods explains that the research is not definitive, but there is a connection to behavioral issues for some kids.
“Children exposed to domestic violence display a wide range of complex emotions, and there is much to learn about the mental health impact of abuse because kids are seen as witnesses and not treated as victims. So hopefully, conversations like this can bring more attention to that.”