Children of Abused Parents Have More Behavior Problems

Judith M. McFarlane, DrPH; Janet Y. Groff, MD, PhD;
Jennifer A. O'Brien, MA; Kathy Watson, MS
Pediatrics, September 2003

Children who witness their mothers being abused can experience a variety of behavior problems, including anxiety, withdrawal, depression, and aggression, say researchers from the University of Texas-Houston Medical School in Houston, Texas.

Researchers surveyed 258 mothers who had been abused and 72 nonabused mothers as part of a study on treatment of abused women. All of the moms had kids between the ages of 18 months and 18 years old. Mothers noted the types of assaults that had occurred within the past 12 months, and they completed a comprehensive survey of their children's behavior. The child behavior survey asked questions about internalizing behaviors, such as anxiety and depression, withdrawal, and physical complaints like headaches or stomachaches. Mothers also reported whether their children showed externalizing behaviors, such as aggression, attention problems, or rule breaking.

Children of abused moms had more internalizing problems, more externalizing problems, and more behavior problems overall than children of nonabused moms. These behaviors, especially depression, withdrawal, and anxiety, place a child at higher risk for suicide.

What This Means to You: A child who is exposed to domestic violence is at risk for behavioral problems, even if he or she isn't directly being abused. Both children and parents in abusive families need help. If you are being abused, call (800) 799-7233 to reach the National Domestic Violence Hotline or talk to your doctor or your child's doctor about what to do.

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