By Kimberley D. Boyd
In a healthy, safe, and happy environment, a child wakes up with little worry. In a home where power and control is constantly being exerted over a partner or all of the family, a child wakes up with a world of worries. The Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ILCADV) reports that their service providers assisted 44,318 adults who were surviving domestic violence in 2013 and 8,168 children witnessed that violence. These numbers reflect reported cases only. Most cases of domestic violence are not reported and the children in those homes are still witnessing domestic violence.
Children absorb what they hear and what they see. When a child is exposed to domestic violence, they hear yelling, screaming, name calling, their loved ones telling their other loved ones that they are worthless, and threats of abuse or death. They see their loved one being hurt: pushed, shoved, slapped, kicked, hit, punched, and even strangled. They hear and see things that create nightmares, not only in their dreams, but also in their daily lives. They learn that this is how a relationship looks. Little girls typically learn that they are the one to be controlled, while a little boy is learning that he is the one to control.
Every child that witnesses domestic violence is being affected by it. Some children can’t sleep, some struggle with school, some find ways to cope that are unhealthy and potentially dangerous. How the child learns to cope on its own depends on the age of the child. Babies and toddlers tend to cry and become clingy to the parent that is being harmed. School-age children tend to struggle with friendships, relationships with teachers, and other people who represent authority in their little world, and have difficulties with concentrating and focusing on most things. Teenagers usually run from how it is affecting them, some literally. Others are dealing with eating disorders, or using substances and anything else that can help them numb their pain and take their mind off their reality.
While children are being exposed to domestic violence, no one is telling them that this behavior is not safe, healthy, or appropriate. No one is telling them that they deserve to be safe and healthy. No one is telling them how to deal with all of the emotions and fears that the domestic violence has created in their little minds and hearts. No one is telling them how to cope with what they are seeing and hearing in the one place they should always be safe… at home!
An entire community is affected when a child is exposed to domestic violence. We need to help reduce their nightmares and make sure every child is in a safe, healthy and happy home. We can do this by making sure we are never tolerant of domestic violence and provide access to services to everyone who is affected by it. The National Domestic Violence hotline is 1-800-700-SAFE (7233). The Illinois Domestic Violence help line is 1-877-863-6338. Our local Countering Domestic Violence hotline is 1-309-827-7070. Please share these numbers with every person you think is encountering domestic violence; it could save their life or the lives of their children.
Kimberley Boyd is an Illinois-certified domestic violence professional who strives to educate, empower, and inform people in the Bloomington-Normal area to work toward a safer and healthier community.
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