Witnessing violence against a parent/caregiver has a profound effect on a child’s well-being and ability to function. The use of the term exposure to domestic violence allows for a broader definition of the many ways children experience domestic abuse. These include hearing a violent event; being directly involved as an eyewitness; being injured as a result of the abuse; and living with the aftermath of the event. Brain functioning changes in response to the stress children living with such violence endure and the vigilance they must exercise to cope with their world. Coming to school, trying to learn, and developing healthy social relationships under such circumstances is monumentally difficult. But caring and supportive school environments can be a refuge, offering a possibility of predictability and calm and a chance to build on experiences where effort is predictably rewarded.
Some children internalize their reactions to the world around them, and others externalize. Internalizers may appear more anxious, withdrawn, or overly compliant. They may manifest their stress in SOMATIC complaints (physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, bed-wetting) or by isolating themselves. With externalizers, conflict is usually more evident. They may be aggressive towards others, defiant, and in conflict with authority. Many students will appear tired and not be able to perform at expected levels; they may appear more on edge. Other characteristics include the following: