Maplegate House


How does abuse affect children

Partner abuse affects children. Sometimes it is obvious if the children are around when the abuse happens, but even if they are not around it can still affect them negatively.

The ways in which children express themselves may include destructive or unacceptable behaviour, or they may become very “good”, excelling in school and keeping out of trouble.

It may be helpful to realize that, on one level, it doesn’t matter why your children are behaving differently. If you do not like how they are behaving, you need to pay attention to it. Do not disregard it because of the abuse you are experiencing.

You may find it helpful to speak with other parents about your children’s behaviour. Being a parent is very hard work and having the support of others is helpful.

Reading up on the subject of parenting can also be of use. The library can be a great source for resources, just remember, because you are in an abusive situation, some of the advice found in books may not apply to your situation.

Counselling programs geared to helping children who have witnessed violence or abuse in their homes are another resource to access. This counselling provides a safe environment for children to talk about what is going on in their life. To find out if these programmes are available in your community call your local transition house or women’s shelter.

Why do I feel that I am not able to do what is best for my children?

When women are dealing with an abusive partner they may often find themselve severely limited when it comes to providing what is best for their children. A woman may stay in an abusive relationship because of being financially dependent on her partner. Women’s choices are limited, having to either stay in the abusive situation, where their children continue to witness abuse. Or, if they choose to leave, they wind up being forced into poverty, especially if the partner fights attempts to be made to pay child support.

Attempting to protect children from their father’s behaviour may be difficult with the courts protecting the partner’s “right” to have access to his children. This winds up being a no-win situation as staying with your partner you are accused of not shielding your children from abuse, but if you leave, the courts may give your partner access to the children.

These limitations that are experienced when you are trying to provide what is best for your children have more to do with our legal and social systems than they do with your ability as a parent.

Talking to children about the abuse

This can be difficult thing to do, especially if you want to teach your children about the abuse without sounding like you are being unfair to their father. If you speak to your children about the abuse, remember that you are only trying to help them to understand what your partner is doing. His behaviour is the problem, and not your speaking about it.

Separating the abusive behaviour from your partner may be helpful. Try to focus on his behaviour, not on him as a person. Talk about specific situations as abusive or hurtful. Be sure to talk with your children only when you are not too upset yourself. Putting yourself in their situation can also be helpful. Think about what they would want to hear from you or talk to you about.

Most research shows that children are far more aware of the abuse than you realize. Most children know that things are not okay, but are not able to describe what is really going on. Knowing that they can speak to you about the abuse will help them to be less afraid, and may help them to let go of the feeling that they are responsible for the abuse or stopping it.

Growing up – will children continue the cycle

Children are not necessarily doomed to live in abuse relationships the rest of their lives. There are steps you can take to help your children learn about respectful behaviour.

First, consider leaving. A way to minimize the negative impact of abuse is to limit the amount of abuse children witness.

Second, consider nuturing relationships with people who are positive role models. Having children spend more time with men who treat others in a respectful, loving way will help them.

Third, talk to your children about the differences between abusive and respectful behaviours. If necessary, use others as material for discussion. Discuss behaviour you see on television or in places you visit. If some behaviour is abusive, call it that. If you experience kind and respectful behaviour, comment on it. Talk to your children about the different types of abuse (emotional, physical, financial etc). It is important that they know about the different types of abuse that can happen.

Remember that people who were raised in abusive homes can choose to live in a different way as adults. Helping your children to understand abuse and its effects can help them to choose to live free of abuse.