relationships - dating - love - intimacy - health
The way you think about your relationships, the skills and attitudes you bring to them and the time and effort you put in can make all the difference. People are social creatures and relationships matter to us. We enjoy them, we cry over them and we're curious about how to get our relationships to be the way we want them. How well your relationships work can have a big impact on how satisfied you feel with life. Stimulating, resilient, satisfying relationships with partners, friends and family rank high on many people's wish list for a happy life.

Many myths surround domestic violence. So how many people are affected, who are the main perpetrators and is there any help available?


Should I talk to my children about the violence?
Yes. Although many people find it difficult to talk to their children about their experiences of domestic violence there are lots of good reasons for talking.

* Although some believe that children don't know what's happening because they haven't actually seen the violence, most children are very aware of the violence.

* Children often feel responsible and may need to be reassured that none of it is their fault. It may be obvious to you that they're not responsible for your partner's behaviour but this may not be obvious to them and could be causing a lot of anxiety.

* Some children are afraid to talk for fear of causing further worry and upset. It's often a huge relief to children to have this silence broken and be able to share their thoughts and feelings instead of bottling them up.

* Not talking to children can send a message that what's happening is unspeakable which sometimes means that children learn not to talk about their own experiences of violence.

* It's helpful to explain to children that violence is wrong so that they don't grow up thinking that it's acceptable.

* You may want to let your child know that there are people outside the family who could help them to deal with how the violence is affecting them.

* Some people find out after they've left violent relationships that their ex-partner was also being violent or abusive towards their children - and that the children didn't tell them because they didn't want to worry them and/or didn't know that it is ok to talk about violence or abuse.

* Your children may feel helpless and frightened by the violence and may want to try and protect you from it. They may need to be reassured that it's not their job to keep you safe and that they shouldn't blame themselves for not managing to do this.

* You may want to talk to your children about what they could do to help in an emergency situation (e.g calling the police or a trusted friend/neighbour).

Useful tips
* If you do decide to talk to them you need to be prepared for the fact that they may ask you some difficult questions or could refuse to talk about it at all.

* You don't need to give them detailed accounts of the violence - instead try to focus on how it's affecting them and their relationships within the family.

* Try to stay with them at a pace that suits them and be as honest and open as you can in taking into account their age and understanding.

* If they talk to you about how they're feeling try to respond sympathetically and always remember that the violence is not your fault either.

How might the violence be affecting my child?
Children are individuals and can be affected by domestic violence in lots of different ways. The one thing you can be sure about is that the violence is almost certainly having an impact on them.

The effects on children tend to vary according to how old they are and also according to the levels of violence, the length of time the violence has been happening for and how much support they've had from others around them.

Under 2s
You child may
* be easily frightened and/or nervous.
* be frightened of your partner and possibly of men in general.
* be very demanding.
* cry a lot.
* have broken sleep or nightmares.
* be very clingy towards you and not cope well with being separated.
* be very clingy towards your partner.
* have an unusual amount of temper tantrums.
* not eat well and be underweight.
* have slow speech development and/or coordination skills.
* be slow to learn to crawl and/or walk.
* stop doing things they have already learnt and return to more babyish behaviour (eg stopping walking).
* be aggressive towards you and/or other children.
* If you think that your child is affected by the violence then it's important to talk to them and try to offer your support.

2 - 5 year olds
You child may
* be easily frightened and/or nervous.
* be frightened of your partner and possibly of men in general.
* be very clingy towards you and/or your partner and not cope well with being separated.
* have an unusual amount of temper tantrums.
* cry a lot.
* not show much emotion (either happy or sad) and may seem detached.
* be aggressive towards you and/or other children.
* try to stop the violence and may feel guilty when they can't succeed in this.
* try to hurt themselves.
* have slow development or regress (e.g. wet themselves or the bed after being toilet trained).
* If you think that your child is affected by the violence then it's important to talk to them and try to offer your support.

5 - 11 year olds
You child may
* be easily frightened, nervous or worried.
* be very demanding.
* actively try to stop the violence (possibly getting hurt in the process).
* behave well at home but be very aggressive and/or rude to others at school.
* bully other children at school and/or brothers and sisters.
* not like themselves as they think that the violence is their fault.
* be angry with your partner.
* be angry with you and may blame you for the violence. Sometimes it feels safer for children to express their anger towards the non-violent parent than the violent parent.
* may try to please your violent partner and/or copy some of his behaviour.
* do badly or very well at school. Some children find it difficult to concentrate on school work because they're worrying about what's happening at home. Others try to block out their home life by only focussing on their school work. Many people wrongly assume that children doing very well at school have not been affected.
* constantly complain of feeling ill to avoid going to school when the doctor can't find anything wrong (child may be worried about what will happen to mum while they're at school).
* find it difficult to make friends at school (sometimes because the child feels too 'different' from others and can't relate to them and sometimes because they miss out on having friends come home due to their fear of what might happen there).
* take on responsibilities inappropriate to their age (e.g. childcare or household tasks).
* be depressed.
* If you think that your child is affected by the violence then it's important to talk to themand try to offer your support.

11 - 17 year olds
You child may
* be very demanding.
* fight a lot with friends and/or brothers and sisters.
* not get on well at school or do unusually well by focussing exclusively on school work instead of on social or family life.
* be depressed and/or anxious and/or fearful.
* be confused about the roles of men and women (boys may be afraid of growing up for fear of becoming like their dads).
* run away from home.
* behave very badly at school in the hope of getting the attention of the school.
* try to protect their mum from the violence and may be hurt in this process. be abusive towards their mum (copying dad's behaviour).
* turn to drugs or alcohol to try to escape from reality.(For help and advice on drugs and alcohol abuse, have a look at our Addictions Guide).
* If you think that your child is affected by the violence then it's important to talk to them and try to offer your support.

Should I tell my child's teacher about the violence at home?
Whether or not you tell your child's teacher will partly depend on the relationship you and your child have with the teacher. If you do decide to tell them, you may need to emphasise the importance of confidentiality to make sure they don't tell anyone who could jeopardise your safety. However, there are several possible advantages in telling the teacher:

* The teacher may be able to offer your child support and understanding in dealing with the effect that the violence is having on them.

* The teacher may be able to refer your child to the school counsellor (if the school offers a counselling service). This could help support your child in coping with the impact which the violence is having on them. This would only happen with your knowledge and consent.

* They may be able to refer you to other support agencies who could help.

* It's possible that your child's behaviour and/or schoolwork may have suffered as a result of the violence at home. The teacher would understand your child's change in behaviour, attendance or school work.

* Telling your child that you've spoken to the teacher may reduce the pressure they may be feeling about keeping the violence a 'secret'. Your child may be relieved to be able to talk to someone outside the family about what's happened which could help to reassure them that they have done nothing wrong and that other people care about what happens to them.

* If you separate from your violent partner and are worried that he may try to take your child from school without your consent, then alerting the teacher to the situation would help the school support you in stopping this from happening.

* If you get an injunction to prevent your violent partner from coming to the school, then the school would need to be informed so they could alert you and/or the police that this has happened.

* The teacher could discuss any concerns you may have about the safety and wellbeing of your child with a trained child protection worker and may help you in getting support from social services if this is appropriate.

* If you're already involved with social services or are planning to contact them for support in dealing with a child protection concern the teacher would be invited to attend any child protection case conferences and may be asked to write a report. You may prefer to be the person who tells them what has happened.

Is there such a thing as the cycle of abuse - do boys with violent fathers end up being violent to their partners?
There is a theory known as the cycle of violence (or abuse) which is sometimes used to 'explain' the reasons behind violent men's behaviour. Some studies show that approximately half of domestic violence perpetrators grew up in violent homes. But, even if this is true, it's important to recognise that the other half did not. Be reassured that most children who witness domestic violence don't become violent later in life.

If your child is worried about it rReassure him that

* He's an individual person who can make his own choices about his behaviour and his life as he grows up.

* There's no evidence to suggest that he'll become violent simply because his dad was.

* There are many non-violent and non-abusive men and women who have witnessed and/or experienced violence by their fathers when they were children.

* Many of these men and women are actively opposed to any kinds of violence.

Some children (boys and girls) are encouraged by their fathers to copy violent behaviour and these children may need additional support in 'unlearning' this behaviour. It's not uncommon for children who are showing their distress in this way to change their behaviour fairly quickly once they are away from the violent situation and begin to feel safe.

Why the 'cycle of abuse' doesn't help

* It puts negative expectations and judgements on children who've experienced domestic violence when what they actually need is support in coming to terms with their experiences.

* It doesn't recognise that many children actively support their mums during experiences of domestic violence.

* It doesn't acknowledge that children are influenced by a variety of different people and factors (including other family members, friends, schools, popular figures and so on). Children who've witnessed domestic violence don't just become carbon copies of their fathers any more than other childn do.

* Finally, and most importantly, the cycle of violence theory doesn't acknowledge that people have a choice about whether or not to use violence.

Do girls with violent fathers end up with violent partners?
No. Research shows that women who've witnessed domestic violence as children are no more likely to experience domestic violence as adults.

While it's not possible for any of us to guarantee that children will not experience domestic violence when they grow up, it is possible to provide them with factual information about their right to safety and respect in their relationships.

Having information about available domestic violence support services is also useful for all young people so that in the event of them being faced with domestic violence, they know how to get help and support.