Does Domestic Violence Encourage Aggressive Behaviour in Children?

Published: 21st August 2013

It is an unfortunate reality that some children can be victims of domestic violence in the home. While there are many organisations set up to help protect and support the child from domestic abuse, the mental images can leave a lasting impact on their psychological state. Domestic violence isn't just limited to physical abuse as children who witness domestic violence can also suffer some long-term effects.

New research carried out by the Mandel School of Applied Science suggests that the exposure to violence alone can have severe long term effects on a child's behaviour by the time they start school. The research project looks at the social behaviour of children in the playground and in classroom environments and how their behaviour may originate from their surroundings up until the age of three years old.

The study compared 107 children between the ages of 0-3 who were exposed to IPV (Intimate Partner Violence) against 339 children of the same age who weren't exposed to IPV. Many different behaviour characteristics were monitored, including the child's assertiveness, levels of respect, responsibility and their ability to cooperate as well as aggressive characteristics such as shouting, disobedience and acts of physical violence. The results showed that aggressive behaviour lays dormant, with the child becoming gradually more aggressive until reaching their peak between five and six years old. This behavioural pattern is referred to as the 'sleeper effect'.

Whilst the study looks at the average behaviour over a large number of children, exposure to IPV can effect children in different ways. For some children, they will privately suffer, developing emotional problems such as anxiety and depression, whereas other children might suffer publicly by expressing aggression such as violence towards others and antisocial behaviour.

The results produced from this research should have the most impact in both social work practice, child care professionals and on the parents themselves. It is important for social workers, carers and parents to understand that when a child has been exposed to domestic violence, the negative effects won't show instantly, they will develop over time, especially as the child enters education. When aggressive or negative behaviour is being shown by a child, it is also important to understand and assess previous exposure more so than current exposure to domestic violence. Early assessment and intervention is crucial to help support the child and to promote positive outcomes in the future.

Dr Megan Holmes, conductor of the study, summed up the importance of a child’s environment in the first few years of their life. "The earliest childhood experiences provide the foundation for later development," she says, "and for success in school and in relationships with other children and adults."

If you or your children are experiencing any forms of domestic violence, K J Smith Solicitors are here to help. We are here to listen, protect and act on your behalf for the good of you and your family. For more information or to arrange a free 45 min consultation, please contact us today on 01491 630000 (Henley on Thames), 0118 418 1000 (Reading) or 020 7070 0330 (Central London).

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