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Unintended Victims: Diagnosis & Treatment of Children of Domestic Violence
Children of Domestic Violence continuing education social worker CEUs

Section 3
Children’s Expressions of Anger

CEU Question 3 | CE Test | Table of Contents | Domestic Violence
Social Worker CEUs, Psychologist CEs, Counselor CEUs, MFT CEUs

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In the last track, we discussed crisis behaviors of emotional suffering, inappropriate behaviors, and hiding the problem and how perhaps the commonly overlooked strategies of spending time, naming feelings, and reinforcing when the primary focus in a domestic crisis may be the battered adult.

At the end of the track I will provide you with some Anger Release Valves for these children. Perhaps if you have tried them, it will serve as a review or refresher, or it will be something new.

Learning the Cycle of Violence
As we have discussed in previous tracks, studies show that childhood observations of parental violence have very harmful effects on children while they are developing. Have you found, like I have, that children unknowingly pass through three phases when observing this domestic violence? If a child passes through each of these phases during childhood, they often grow up to exhibit the same violent relationships they observed as a child. I have observed these 3 Ways Children of Domestic Violence Fuel the Flame of their anger. These are: Observation, Imitation, and Internalization.

3 Ways Children of Domestic Violence Fuel the Flame of Anger

#1: Observation
Studies indicate that children witness 75 percent of all domestic violence incidents in the home. Sasha, a battered woman with two young boys Benjamin, 3, and Todd, 8, stated in a session, "I couldn't believe how much Benjamin had seen of our fighting, I always thought we kept it hidden. Yesterday he said to me 'Mommy, Daddy hits you. But only big men like Daddy can hit Mommies…So when I get big can I hit Mommies too?' I was devastated."

As you know, studies have also found that women who are being battered are more likely to use physical discipline with their children. Thus, the children in these violent homes are given one more way to observe violence as the only means of conflict resolution. I stated to Sasha, "This observed violence, directed between parents and toward the children, can make it very easy for a child to learn that the people who love them also hurt them, serving to fuel the flame of their anger." At the end of the track I will explain an Anger Releasing technique.

#2: Imitation
As you know, social learning theory has demonstrated that children do not need a reward for this imitation in order to learn and perform the aggressive behaviors they have observed. Sasha stated to me, "Todd called Benjamin a horrible name and pushed him into the wall. Then when Todd saw me in the hallway he said, 'What are you looking at, you fat cow?' I wanted to die. I realized my kids were growing up with a totally distorted image of what a family is, what a normal mom is, what a normal dad is, what love is. They'd already learned to disrespect women-to disrespect me."

In your next session with your Sasha, who has not left yet, would it be appropriate to use this type of information as a lever for those who are stating, 'I am staying in this relationship for my children.'?

#3: Internalization
As children in violent homes pass through the phases of observation and imitation, they begin to internalize the belief that the use of physical force in marriage is a legitimate expression of authority. I stated to Sasha, "If the children carry this internalized belief into adulthood, they may often adopt the role of abuser or the abused. Thus, by observing and then imitating the violence, the children come to internalize and believe in the behaviors they have seen, thus continuing their family cycle of violence."

However, have you found, like I, that the observations of violence have a stronger effect regarding the continuation of the violence, on boys than on girls? Perhaps this is because society has grown to be far more accepting of aggression and violence from men than from women. A study by Straus indicates that men who observed physical violence between their parents as children were three times as likely to have hit their wives during the year previous to his interview. This study also indicates that sons of violent parents have a rate of wife beating at 1,000 percent greater than sons of nonviolent parents.

Girls, of couse, internalize the abuse they witness and often repeat this in their future relationships. In short, angry, violent parents can create angry, violent children.

4 Anger Release Techniques
Here are four Anger Release Techniques I have utilized with children from domestic violence homes. As I read this, think of your next session with a child from a domestic violence home. Have you tried these? Would any of these be appropriate for your client? Do any of these memory jog for you a different anger release technique you would like to try?

The four Anger Relase Techniques I tend to suggest to children most often are:
#1 Writing a letter to their parents during the session and then ripping it up, if they so choose;
#2 At home pounding on their bed-- it sure beats pounding on their little brother;
#3 Shredding sheets of newspaper during the session; or
#4 Screaming into a pillow in my office or at home.

What do you think of these four Anger Release Techniques? Would any of these be beneficial with a child you are currently treating? Write a letter to the parents and then rip it up? Pound on the bed? Shred sheets of newspaper? Scream into a pillow?

This track has discussed the three phases of observation, imitation, and internalization that children often pass through when learning the cycle of family violence. This brings us to the double dose, which is not only witnessing, but also experiencing abuse. The double dose will be discussed on the next track.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Davies, P. T., Coe, J. L., Hentges, R. F., Sturge-Apple, M. L., & Ripple, M. T. (2018). Interparental hostility and children’s externalizing symptoms: Attention to anger as a mediator. Developmental Psychology, 54(7), 1290–1303. 

Jouriles, E. N., Vu, N. L., McDonald, R., & Rosenfield, D. (2014). Children’s appraisals of conflict, beliefs about aggression, and externalizing problems in families characterized by severe intimate partner violence. Journal of Family Psychology, 28(6), 915–924. 

Marshall, A. D., Roettger, M. E., Mattern, A. C., Feinberg, M. E., & Jones, D. E. (2018). Trauma exposure and aggression toward partners and children: Contextual influences of fear and anger. Journal of Family Psychology, 32(6), 710–721.

“Parenting time, parenting quality, interparental conflict, and mental health problems of children in high-conflict divorce": Correction to O’Hara et al. (2019) (2020). Journal of Family Psychology, 34(1), 23.

Sears, M. S., Repetti, R. L., Reynolds, B. M., & Sperling, J. B. (2014). A naturalistic observational study of children’s expressions of anger in the family context. Emotion, 14(2), 272–283.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 3
What are three phases children may experience in learning the cycle of violence as they observe their parent's violent acts? To select and enter your answer go to CE Test.

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