CHILDREN Witnessing Violence

Children living in homes where there is family violence are in an environment that is unpredictable and filled with tension and fear. A child may see their mother threatened or harmed or they may overhear conflict. They may see the aftermath of the violence such as their mother’s injuries and her distressing response to the violence. All this can lead to significant emotional and psychological trauma. The trauma can be ongoing and long-lasting.

Family violence can impact on a child’s development which can affect their everyday functioning. The affects build up over time, and can impact on every aspect of their life.

Apart from the emotional, physical, social and behavioural damage abuse creates for a child, family violence can also become a learned behaviour. This means that a child may grow up to think it is okay to use violence to get what they want and as adults that it is okay for there to be violence in their adult relationships.

When children are impacted by family violence, it can affect their:

Development: normal development may be impaired. A child may look as though they are regressing or acting younger than their age.

Behaviours: they may dissociate, withdraw, over-react, be hostile, impulsive, aggressive or defiant. Such behaviours can be normal to a child who has been traumatised by family violence.

Relationships: they may avoid closeness and push people away.

Emotions: a child may feel fearful, stressed, depressed, angry, anxious or ashamed. Emotional security is the foundation of healthy relationships later in life. This security can be damaged if attachment between the mother/carer and baby is disrupted by family violence.

Learning: they may not be able to concentrate at school.

Cognitions: children may have low self-esteem and think negatively about themselves or people around them.

Physical health: this includes illness such as headaches or rashes; nightmares and bedwetting.

How you can help a child recover from violence

You can help your child emotionally recover from family violence in many ways:

  • Protect children from violence by taking them to a safe place
  • Reassure the child that none of the violent episodes were their fault in any way
  • Tell them how much you love them and cuddle them often
  • Encourage them to talk openly about their feelings
  • Get extra help for your child if necessary
  • Enlist a trusted adult to provide your child with emotional support
  • Seek professional help, such as counselling, for all family members

IF YOU ARE a Child or Young Person

Most families have arguments and family members sometimes don’t get along. This is normal, but if an adult in your family is hurting, humiliating, threatening or frightening other people in your family then this could be family violence.

If you think that someone you care about is being hurt or you’re scared or confused about things that are happening in your family you can take a quiz to help you work out what’s going on.

How family violence can make you feel

When faced with violence or abuse, you may feel:

  • frightened or nervous
  • guilty or ashamed
  • confused or sad
  • anxious or depressed
  • sick, have headaches or stomach pain.

These feeling are a normal response to what is happening. They are a sign that you should get help. You may also:

  • not want to eat
  • not want to be with your friends
  • not be sleeping well and sometimes have nightmares
  • not want to do school work
  • want to run away or leave home
  • want to drink alcohol or take drugs
  • begin to stutter or have trouble talking
  • worry about the safety of your family

What you can do

If you or someone else is getting hurt and you need help right away, use a phone and dial 000. Ask for the police.

Living with violence and abuse is hard to deal with, but there may be some steps you can take to make the situation better.

Plan to keep yourself safe

Here are some things you could consider:

  • Work out who you can trust to talk to about what is happening in your home
  • Find a safe place in the house where you can go when the violence is happening
  • Plan the best way to get out of your house quickly
  • Ask a neighbour or friend who lives nearby if you can go to their house in an emergency. Make a plan for how to get there
  • Make a list of people you want to call if you have to leave home quickly. Make sure you have their telephone numbers written down in a safe place or in your mobile

Getting help

Help is always available.

  • If you feel that you are, or someone you care about is, in danger call the Police on 000
  • Call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 for help. Kids Helpline is a free and confidential telephone and online counselling service for young people aged between 5 and 25. You can speak to a counsellor 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • Contact someone you can trust like a relative, teacher or school guidance officer. Try to explain how you or your family has been hurt even though it may be hard to find the right words. If the person doesn’t listen or doesn’t believe you, tell someone else


  • Don’t put yourself in any danger to try and protect someone else
  • It’s not your fault. The only person who can be blamed for the violence is the person who is being violent.
  • You are not alone – there are people who can help you

SAFETY Planning with Children

It is essential for children who live in violent environments to have a simple safety plan so they know what to do when family violence is occurring. It is important that you review your safety plan on a regular basis to ensure to it contains the most relevant actions for your circumstances at the current time. The simple safety plan for your children should include:

  • Tell your children they must NOT try to intervene if there is violence
  • Make a list of people the children can trust and talk to if they are feeling unsafe (neighbours, teachers, relatives, friends)
  • Decide ahead of time on a safe place where your children can hide or run to when they feel unsafe
  • Teach your children who to ring for help and where the phone numbers are so they can find them easily
  • Develop a code word that signals they need to leave now
  • Teach children to ring the police on 000 and rehearse with them what to say in advance
  • Practice what each child should say if they have to report violence e.g: “My name is …… and my mum is being hurt”
  • Teach children their full name and their address
  • Give children permission to get help from neighbours or others if needed

Remember to remind your children:

  • That what is happening is not their fault. The only person who can be blamed for the violence is the person who is being violent.
  • They are not alone – there are people who can help both you and them

Kids triple zero website provides opportunities for children to practice ringing triple zero


What is happening in my family?

Family violence can be very hard to understand because there is no single one reason why it occurs – it can be a combination of lots of things. Family violence is different to family fights or arguments. In every family, it is natural to have disagreements with one another. However, when this happens all the time and one person abuses another or others by hitting, punching, throwing things around or threatening to harm someone, it is family violence. This can be from your parents, other family members to each other, or towards you. Unfortunately, family violence is common – in fact, one in four teenagers has seen physical violence by one parent towards another. Excuses are often used as a reason why one person abuses the other like ‘it’s your fault, you shouldn’t have done that’ or ‘you know I’m under a lot of pressure from work and you just keep putting me under more pressure until I snap’. There is no excuse for being violent – it is simply not okay.

How you might feel

When living with family violence you can feel:

  • uncomfortable and embarrassed about bringing friends back to your house, so you avoid doing this
  • frightened to be away from home because you’re worried something bad may happen to your mum or another family member
  • you may feel afraid to go home, and avoid it as much as possible
  • you may feel that you are to blame and it’s you doing something wrong
  • alone and unhappy
  • tired and finding it hard to concentrate at school
  • really scared, not knowing how bad the next fight might be
  • you want to try to stop the fights from happening
  • frustrated because you don’t know how to fix the problem
  • you want to call the police or your neighbours for help but are scared of doing that

Sometimes it helps to write down how you are feeling. Locking up inside how you feel can be pretty tough. So if you think it is safe to so, keep a diary or journal and write down how you are feeling. It’s important to keep your diary or journal in a safe place so that no one can read it except you.

KNOW A CHILD or Young Person Affected

Whether you are being abused by someone or you know of someone who is being abused it is very important to stay safe. Keeping safe can be as simple as talking to someone you trust, having a list of important phone numbers kept in a safe place or learning more about what can happen to people who are being abused. All these things are ways you can take care of yourself. If you are supporting someone you know who is being abused, try to avoid approaching the person who is being violent. You may be putting yourself in danger, instead consider talking to an adult you trust about your situation or talking with a professional from a service listed under “useful links”. You may be able to get some helpful advice on how to support your friend in a safe way.

What can I do to help?
Approach your friend in a sensitive and caring way, be thoughtful and tell your friend that you are really worried about what is going on. Say why you are worried, such as, ‘I’ve noticed you don’t talk with your friends any more.’ Some examples of how to help your friend:

  • listen to and believe them
  • encourage your friend to talk to an adult they trust
  • let your friend know you think they are brave to be able to talk about what is happening
  • let your friend know that what is happening, that it is not their fault and that they don’t deserve it
  • let your friend know you are there for them and that they are not alone

Try not to:

  • Gossip about what your friend has told you. (But it is important to remember that getting help from an adult you trust or by calling safe steps or one of the useful links on this website is not gossiping – it’s a good idea)
  • Suggest to your friend they are causing the violence to happen. Remember it is never the fault of the person experiencing the abuse
  • Confront the abusive person because this can be dangerous. (Instead, tell an adult or someone you trust about your concerns)
  • Give advice or tell your friend what they should do. )Giving your friend information is more helpful so that they can make their own decisions)

For young people living with family violence it can be really ‘full-on’. Your support can make a difference.

RESOURCES – a website to help teens and young adults better understand family and dating violence. – a website to help young children aged 3-7 better understand family violence, and adjust to entering safe house and refuge accommodation.