Could it be abuse? 10 signs of trouble

Published Date:
by Jeanné Hansen, LCSW, SIU Department of Psychiatry

It is almost 2:30. School gets out at 3:00. As if on cue, Will gets restless. He fidgets in his seat. He looks at the clock nervously. He taps his pencil on his desk. It’s as if someone wound him up. Ms. Green is once again annoyed with him. “Sit still!” she states sternly. He’d love to. But he can’t. He is not sure what he’ll face when he gets home. Will the fighting have started again? Will it ever have ended from last night? How badly will mom be hurt? Will they leave again?

According to the Childhood Domestic Violence Association, five million children witness domestic violence each year in the United States. These children are six times more likely to commit suicide, 50% more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, and three times more likely to repeat the cycle of violence in adulthood. We all know someone who has been touched by this. Maybe we are that someone.

What should we be looking for? Some common signs are:

  1. Trouble paying attention
  2. Hesitancy to go home
  3. Intensified startle response
  4. Withdrawn behavior
  5. Regression behavior
  6. Aggressive behavior
  7. Obsessive behavior
  8. Missing school or regularly being tardy
  9. Anxiety
  10. Perfectionism

The realization that there could be violence in the home can feel scary and overwhelming for anyone. We may question the accuracy of our assessment. We may fear for the safety of the child, the siblings or the abused parent. We may fear for our own safety. How do I talk to the child? Should I talk to the child? What if I am wrong? What if I am right?

In situations where we become aware that children have witnessed domestic violence, there are some things we can do ─ and in some cases not do ─ to help:

  • Don’t be afraid to ask a child what happens in his/her home when the parental figures argue or fight. Talk to him/her about healthy relationships.
  • If a child confides in you, believe him/her! Children need to know that someone will take them at their word. Their perception is their reality.
  • Let the child know that he/she, the siblings and the abused parent do NOT deserve this. They need to know there are resources for victims of abuse and healthy relationships are a possibility.
  • Know the resources in your community. Reach out to the domestic violence agency that serves your area. They can often provide resources and/or training.
    • Sojourn Shelter and Services (Springfield): 217-726-5200
    • Dove (Decatur): 217-423-2238
    • Crisis Center Foundation (Jacksonville): 217-243-4357
  • Make your space a safe space. Don’t allow aggressive words or behavior. Create an environment of peace, respect and acceptance.
  • Don’t tell the child it will never happen again or that everything will be alright. We don’t know that and should not make promises we can’t keep.

We all have the opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of children who witness domestic violence in their homes. Educate yourself and those around you as to what resources are available in your schools, communities and workplaces. Use those resources and don’t be afraid to ask for help from their experts. Together, we can make a difference.

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