When Dad Hurts Mom—the Impact of Woman Abuse on Kids and How to Fix It

October is Child Abuse Prevention Month.  We asked our colleagues at the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto to blog for you.

As a supervisor and trainer in the area of woman abuse, I’m often asked about the impact on children of witnessing violence in the home.

Impact varies with age

In infants and toddlers we may see delayed social or emotional development or anxiety issues.  As children get older they may begin to act out, show signs of aggression or withdrawal or their behaviour may regress and they may begin to bed wet.

Given that children in this age group are just entering the school system they are sometimes identified as having learning or behavioural challenges.

Teens may engage in self harming behaviours, experiment with drugs or enter into intimate relationships that put their safety and health at risk.


Some children may not display any signs or symptoms, while others may display controlling or highly organized behaviours. These children are often looking to maintain some sense of control in order to cope with what may be a chaotic and unpredictable home environment.

Factors that influence outcomes

Research has shown that many factors play a role on the outcomes for children who have witnessed violence.  The child’s age, developmental level, resilience and supports available to the family are all such factors.

Preserve the relationship with mom

One key factor is the relationship between the mother and child.  Children will have better outcomes if they have a positive relationship with their mother.  This is why preserving this relationship is crucial.

Violence against women is meant to undermine a mother’s relationship with their children. This is part of the dynamic.

Giving women the resources they need will enable them to keep themselves and their children safe.

Be a role model

Another key factor of positive outcomes for children is the presence of a significant person in their life.  This could be a family member, teacher, counsellor, neighbour, elder or community leader.

Listen, then plan

If you are a person in that role it is important listen to the child.  Often it’s assumed that children may not have heard or seen the violence against their mother, but children generally know what is going on in their home even if they are not be able to understand the complexities of the abuse.

Listen to their story, acknowledge their feelings and support a plan for their safety.

Lisa Tomlinson is a Child Welfare Supervisor with the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto.  She was the first supervisor of their Domestic Violence Team.

One Comment

  1. Destiny Bedwell
    10 years ago

    When you need help, but don’t know where to turn, dial 211 in Ontario to find community and social services near you who can help: services like shelters, distress lines, counselling help, help to escape safely. When you dial 211 you speak to a live person, 24/7 who is trained to listen and empower you to access the right services. We can help people in 150 languages on the phone.

    Also see this article on the cost of supporting women to leave abusive situations:

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