The psychological effects of children witnessing domestic violence.
This study explores the experiences of five children witnessing family violence and the resultant psychological distress experienced by these children. The study was conducted within a phenomenological framework and used in-depth interviews with the children and caregivers. The data gleaned from the interviews with the children was substantiated by projective drawing tasks. Analysis of the interviews and drawings found that children who witnessed domestic violence experienced significant psychological distress. The significant findings of the study were as follows: Child witnesses exhibited behavioural, affective and cognitive responses to witnessing the traumatic events. Themes of guilt, shame and role confusion emerged from the interview data as results of having witnessed the abusive episodes. Fear was a result of having witnessed the abusive episodes, and was pervasive in all relationships - with significant others, peers, and the researcher. Social support from peers and family members acted as a buffer by providing an escape to dealing with witnessing the trauma. There was a significant difference in the coping styles in relation to developmental status- the older children exhibited a multitude of coping styles as compared to the younger children. Gender pattern differences emerged - boys were more likely to exhibit externalizing behaviour in response to witnessing the abusive episodes, whilst the girls exhibited more internalizing behaviour patterns. The results of this study are discussed within the ecological-transactional framework. Further research in the area of domestic violence is recommended.