Family Violence Linked to Serious Stress in Children
Children exposed to potentially traumatic experiences including family violence and abuse are at risk for a serious stress disorder, researchers recently reported in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Researchers from the Harvard University School of Public Health in Boston interviewed 337 children, ages 6 to 12 years, to assess the impact that domestic violence and other forms of traumatic experiences had on children. They found that almost 1/4 of children exposed to traumatic events including violence within and outside the family had symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD usually occurs when a person has been through a life-threatening event, after which they often re-experience the horror of the event and will try to avoid activities that remind them of their experience.

The death or illness of a loved one was most likely to cause symptoms of PTSD in children. Violence within the family, along with having witnessed a violent crime such as mugging, rape, or murder outside the family, also contributed to the development of a serious stress disorder.

Of those children who had symptoms of PTSD, 83% came from a violent home and 19% reported seeing their mother abused by their father or stepfather. But over 1/3 of children of children who had symptoms of PTSD had themselves been abused by their father or stepfather, the researchers found. Children who suffer from PTSD were also likely to have other psychological disorders, such as irrational fears and significant anxiety when left alone.

Because children with PTSD are likely to have a range of psychological difficulties, the authors conclude that services need to be extended to children from battered homes to try to offset “the potentially serious consequences of exposure to domestic abuse.”