Domestic abuse - guidance for parents

What domestic abuse is, how it affects young people, and how to get help for your family.


If any of these things happen in your home you might be living with domestic abuse:

  • Family members get sworn at or called names
  • Adults argue or fight a lot
  • Someone gets slapped or kicked
  • Someone smashes or breaks things in the house when they are angry
  • Someone in your family feels scared or gets hurt

Domestic abuse usually happens between adults who live together. It might involve one adult hurting another, being unkind or threatening or frightening them. Although domestic abuse is usually a man hurting a woman, it can also be a woman hurting a man. It can also involve brothers and sisters, uncles and other family members.

Domestic abuse harms children when they hear or see it going on, and sometimes they get caught in the middle of a fight. Children and young people can 'witness domestic abuse' in a variety of ways. Below is a list of some of the examples:

  • They may be in the same room and may even get caught in the middle of an incident in an effort to make the abuse stop
  • They may be in the room next door and hear the abuse or see their mother's or father's physical injuries following an incident of abuse
  • They may be forced to stay in one room or may not be allowed to play
  • They may be forced to witness sexual abuse or they may be forced to take part in verbally abusing the victim

All children witnessing domestic abuse are being emotionally abused.

What are the effects of domestic abuse on children and young people?

The majority of children and young people witness the abuse that is occurring and in about half of all domestic abuse situations, they are also being directly abused themselves.

A child or young person can experience both short and long term behavioural and emotional effects. Each child and young person will respond differently to trauma and some may be more resilient and not exhibit any negative effects.

A child or young person's responses to the trauma of witnessing domestic abuse may vary according to a multitude of factors including age, race, sex and stage of development. 

Children and young people are individuals and may respond to witnessing abuse in different ways. These are some of the effects described in a briefing by the Royal College of Psychiatrists (2004):

  • They may become anxious or depressed
  • They may have difficulty sleeping
  • They have nightmares or flashbacks
  • They can be easily startled
  • They may complain of physical symptoms such as tummy aches
  • They may start to wet their bed
  • They may have temper tantrums
  • They may behave as though they are much younger
  • They may have problems with school
  • They may become aggressive or they may internalise their distress and withdraw from other people
  • They may have a lowered sense of self-worth
  • Older children may begin to play truant or start to use alcohol or drugs
  • They may begin to self-harm by taking overdoses or cutting themselves
  • They may have an eating disorder
  • Children may also feel angry, guilty, insecure, alone, frightened, powerless or confused. They may have ambivalent feelings towards the abuser and the non-abusing parent

Adults in families often try to keep the domestic abuse a secret. However it is very important that you talk to someone you can trust so that you can get help for yourself or anyone who is being affected in your family. You and everyone in your family has the right to feel safe and happy at home.

Where to get help

There are a number of agencies that can help. You are not alone and do not have to suffer in silence. You can find these contacts on our links page.

In an emergency please call 999.

Domestic Violence and Abuse leaflet provides information, advice and support to people experiencing domestic abuse in Wandsworth.