Aggression seen by babies and toddlers eventually can lead to abuse of older adults in the home by relatives or other caregivers. Here’s how it starts–as babies witness violence between people they see daily in their own home. What happens when the stress of caring for older adult relatives causes aggression, and is it related to having witnessed domestic violence in early childhood?
The origin of aggression in school-age children may begin in children 3 years old and younger who witnessed violence between their mothers and partners, according to a new Case Western Reserve University study, “The sleeper effect of intimate partner violence exposure: long-term partner violence (IPV) exposure: long-term consequences on young children’s aggressive behavior,” published online in the March 29, 2013 issue of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
When there’s elder abuse in the home witnessed by the grandkids, it could lead to violence in small children. The same applies to parents who physically hit each other or punish kids by hitting them for many different reasons, such as vying for attention. The issue is the way older adults are treated influences the amount of aggression in children, including the grandchildren living in a household where middle-aged parents are caring for older grandparents and the children, even babies witness the neglect or abuse, according to the June 17, 2013 news release, “CWRU study finds babies witnessing violence show aggression later in school.”
The study didn’t mention kids who are brain damaged at birth or genetically predisposed by various mutations to be violent to anyone, including relatives and older adults, but focused on babies witnessing violence in the home very early in life. Aggression in school-age children may have its origins in children 3 years old and younger who witnessed violence between their mothers and partners, according to a new Case Western Reserve University study.
“People may think children that young are passive and unaware, but they pay attention to what’s happening around them,” said Megan Holmes, assistant professor of social work at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, according to a June 17, 2013 news release, “CWRU study finds babies witnessing violence show aggression later in school.” Domestic violence is not only between a couple with young children. It extends to adult children caring for elderly relatives or taking care of older adults who need help in basic skills such as hygiene, dressing, changing sheets, preparing food, and eating.
Between three and 10 million children witness some form of domestic violence each year, according the National Center for Children Exposed to Violence
Holmes said researchers know the impact of recent exposure to violence, but little information has been available about the long-term effect from the early years of life. To her knowledge, she said her study is the first to look at the effect of early exposure to domestic violence and its impact on the development of social behavior. Also see the study, “Violent Childhood Experiences and the Risk of Intimate Partner Violence in Adults: Assessment in a Large Health Maintenance Organization.”
In the study, “The sleeper effect of intimate partner violence (IPV) exposure: long-term consequences on young children’s aggressive behavior,” Holmes analyzed the behavior of 107 children exposed to IPV in their first three years but never again after age 3. The outcomes of those children were compared to 339 children who were never exposed.
Those studied were from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Well-Being (NSCAW), which included children reported to Child Protective Services for abuse or neglect. The children’s behavior was followed four times over the course of 5 years.
Holmes’s research examined the timing, duration and nature of their exposure to violence and how it affected aggressive behavior
Analyzing aggressive behaviors, Holmes saw no behavioral differences between those who did or did not witness violence between the ages of 3 and 5, but children exposed to violence increased their aggression when they reached school age. And the more frequently IPV was witnessed, the more aggressive the behaviors became. Meanwhile, children never exposed to IPV gradually decreased in aggression.
Knowing about the delayed effect on children is important for social workers assessing the impact on children in homes with domestic violence, Holmes explained in the news release. “The delay also gives social workers a window of opportunity between ages 3 and 5 to help the children socialize and learn what is appropriate behavior,” explained Holmes in the news release. Holmes has worked with mothers and children in domestic violence shelters.
Interventions can include play and art therapies to help children work through the violence to which they were exposed
Holmes reported her findings in the spring issue of Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. “My overarching goal is to contribute to optimal development of children who have been exposed to IPV by identifying risk and protective factors that will be translated into interventions,” Holmes said in the news release.
The study included support from the National Quality Improvement Center on Early Childhood, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children, Youth and Families in the Office on Child Abuse and Neglect.