Domestic Violence, Kids, and the Classroom

Domestic violence affects people from all backgrounds, in all parts of the country. Adults aren’t the only victims. Children experience deep and lasting emotional and physical trauma when they grow up in an abusive home.

Of course, the impacts of abuse go far beyond the house’s four walls. When these children step foot in the classroom, the physical, emotional, and psychological impacts of domestic abuse continue to follow them. With an estimated 15.5 million American children witnessing or experiencing domestic violence each year, this is a problem we simply cannot ignore.

How Domestic Abuse Impacts Students

A report by the American Counseling Association uncovered domestic violence’s dramatic impact on a child’s school performance. In the study, researchers discovered that children from dysfunctional homes were much less likely to succeed academically. These children were also more likely to display aggressive behaviors towards other students, such as bullying, fighting, or being otherwise disruptive in class.

Another report concluded that just one child from an abusive home could impact the entire classroom. In a classroom where one or more students experience domestic abuse, ALL students in that class – regardless of home stability – often have lower test scores, lower college completion rates, and lower income as adults.

Why? Well, children who witness or experience domestic violence are deeply traumatized. School is the one place they feel safe, and therefore often feel like they can react to what’s going on at home. While that reaction looks different for every child, many teachers and counselors note the following signs:

  • Aggression or bulling
  • Being withdrawn
  • Delayed development
  • Anxiety
  • Falling grades
  • Headaches
  • Outbursts
  • Violence towards other children or adults
  • Refusal to talk about home or bring friends home
  • Difficulty sleeping or excessive sleepiness in class

Typically, a child feels fearful about speaking out or can’t express what’s going on at home. Instead, he or she acts out in the classroom. When a child displays any of these behaviors, it can impact the entire classroom, leading to slight or significant learning disruptions.

The Best Way to Help Children of Domestic Violence Succeed

The single best way to help a child living in a dysfunctional home? Report the abuse, say experts. Researchers found that when parents finally report the abuse, the children’s behavior and school performance begin improving almost immediately.

Reporting domestic abuse also forces authorities to get involved. That means teachers and school counselors often learn about the abuse and give the student added support and guidance. When the student finally feels safe and supported at school, it’s much easier to focus on classwork.

The studies also point out the vital role that teachers, administrators, and school counselors play in the lives of young survivors. Each of these adults has the opportunity to change the student’s life simply by speaking up when they suspect a child is experiencing domestic abuse.

How to Safely Report Domestic Abuse

If you believe a child in your life may be experiencing domestic abuse at home – or if you and your children are the victims of domestic violence – it’s important to report it as soon and as safely as possible. Contact your local domestic violence abuse helpline, go to the National Domestic Violence Hotline, or learn more on this blog.

Domestic abuse impacts an entire society. It’s never too late to get help.


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