What is domestic violence?
Domestic violence, or family violence, occurs when adults in a household engage in physical violence, name calling, put downs, yelling, or threats among other abusive and controlling behaviours.

This usually occurs in a cyclical pattern where the family experiences tension building, an abusive incident, and then usually some sort of honeymoon phase characterized by apologies and promised changed behaviour.

What happens to children who have witnessed domestic violence?
Children and youth who witness and experience domestic violence may have many conflicting feelings as well as behavioural and social impacts.

They may feel:

  • Scared,
  • Anxious,
  • Ongoing worry for the safety of one parent,
  • Angry,
  • Depressed,
  • Confused,

For some children and youth, these feelings may lead to aggressive behaviour in the home and/or at school. For example, I can recall working with a young child who intentionally acted out at school so he could be sent home to be with Mom because he was worried about her safety. For others, they will try to be the “perfect” child by excelling at school and being super helpful at home.

Both examples can be in response to the child’s/youth’s feelings and the need to have some control in their life but also as safety measures of sorts to either keep the calm in the home or to direct the attention onto themselves and off the other parent.

What other things can domestic violence impact?
Domestic violence can also impact a child’s eating, sleeping, relationship formation and maintenance, and their ability to trust others.

Does it affect babies? Or just older kids?

Even babies are not immune to the effects of domestic violence. When a parent picks up their child or infant they can pick up on our energy which informs them if this is a safe, loving environment or if they need to be on guard. Domestic violence can even interrupt a baby’s attachment to their caregivers as a result.

How do we support children and youth who have experienced domestic violence?
First, it is helpful to note that children can thrive by having a secure attachment to positive adults in their life.

Children and youth also need to know that the domestic violence that has happened in their home is not their fault, and they are not responsible for anyone’s behaviours but their own. Parents need to be mindful of what is age-appropriate information for a child to know.

Safety plans are important to work through with children if the family plans to stay together while seeking support for abusive behaviour and healing from what has happened. These pieces can be done through therapy for children and youth, as well as parent coaching for how to talk to children/youth about abuse that has happened.

In addition to therapy through Brant Mental Health Solutions, below are some helpful resources:

The Refrigerator Door  – a practical handbook for survivors of domestic and family violence in Brant and Brant County



Nova Vita Domestic Violence Prevention Services – emergency shelter, crisis support, safety planning, transitional support, counselling

519-752-4357 www.novavita.org


Victim Services of Brant – safety planning, court assistance, funding for counselling, etc.

519-752-3140 www.victimservicesbrant.on.ca


Child and Family Services of Grand Erie – to report any concerns regarding the safety of children, support for families in need

519-753-8681 www.cfsge.ca