It's often difficult to tell if domestic abuse is happening, because it usually takes place in the family home and abusers can act very differently when other people are around.

Children who witness domestic abuse may:

  • become aggressive
  • display anti-social behaviour
  • suffer from depression or anxiety
  • not do as well at school - due to difficulties at home or disruption of moving to and from refuges.

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Things you may notice

If you're worried that a child is being abused, watch out for any unusual behaviour. 

  • withdrawn
  • suddenly behaves differently
  • anxious
  • clingy
  • depressed
  • aggressive
  • problems sleeping
  • eating disorders
  • wets the bed
  • soils clothes
  • takes risks
  • misses school
  • changes in eating habits
  • obsessive behaviour
  • nightmares
  • drugs
  • alcohol
  • self-harm
  • thoughts about suicide

If you're worried about a child, contact the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000.

Find out more about the signs, symptoms and effects of child abuse.


How domestic abuse affects children

Living in a home where there’s domestic abuse is harmful. It can have a serious impact on a child's behaviour and wellbeing.

Parents or carers may underestimate the effects of the abuse on their children because they don’t see what’s happening.

But children witnessing domestic abuse is recognised as 'significant harm' in law.

Domestic abuse can also be a sign that children are suffering another type of abuse or neglect (Stanley, 2011).

The effects can last into adulthood. But, once they're in a safer and more stable environment, most children are able to move on from the effects of witnessing domestic abuse.

Children's stories

"At the first session I got to meet other young people... I started to feel a bit more normal and realised for the first time that I wasn’t alone."

Read JB's story

Children's stories

"I knew it was wrong from the first punch when I was 16. But I was very young and scared, and worried about coping on my own."

Read Alison's story

Further information and advice

Who is affected

It doesn't matter what your age, race, gender or sexuality is - anyone can be affected by domestic abuse.
Find out more about who is affected

Keeping children safe

How to help keep children safe from domestic abuse
Keeping children safe from domestic abuse

Call for Help

This Christmas, a child will contact Childline every 25 seconds. Donate now to help us answer their call.

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It's Time to demand change

Up to 90% of children who've been abused will develop mental health issues by the time they're 18.

Help us change this

References

  1. Stanley, N. (2011) Children experiencing domestic violence: a research review. Totnes, Devon: Research in Practice.