Inter-Parental Violence: The Pre-Schooler’s Perspective and the Educator’s Role



Early childhood educators are likely to encounter youngsters who experience problems at home impeding their abilities to learn and benefit from the program. One such group is children who live or have lived with adult domestic violence. Children yet to begin elementary school are over-represented among groups of young people known to live with inter-parental violence. A qualitative study using clinical interviews of young children was used to develop a model suggesting how key aspects of development among children 3–5 years of age can react to and be affected by inter-parental violence. Focus is on age-appropriate expression of emotions, salience of observations and conflicting messages, a child’s focus on outcome versus process, egocentricity and self-blame, learning of gender roles, and delay or regression in development of independence. Implications for the classroom are outlined, including providing a nurturing environment, supporting child adjustment, and helping caregivers. Special contingencies when families are in shelters are also discussed.


Inter-parental violence Maltreatment Children of abused women Coping Teaching strategies 



This work was supported by grants from the National Crime Prevention Strategy in Ottawa, Canada, the Ontario Women’s Directorate, and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.


  1. Baker, L., & Cunningham, A. (2004). Helping children thrive/supporting woman abuse survivors as mothers: A resource to support parenting. London, ON: Centre for Children & Families in the Justice System.Google Scholar
  2. Baker, L., Jaffe, P., Ashbourne, L., & Carter, J. (2002). Children exposed to domestic violence: An early childhood educator’s handbook to increase understanding and improve community responses. London, ON: Centre for Children & Families in the Justice System.Google Scholar
  3. Baker, L., Jaffe, P., & Moore, K. (2001). Understanding the effects of domestic violence: A trainer’s manual for early childhood educators. London, ON: Centre for Children & Families in the Justice System.Google Scholar
  4. Bernstein, S. (1991). A family that fights. Morton, IL: Albert Whitman Publishers.Google Scholar
  5. Black, T., Trocmé, N., Fallon, B., & MacLaurin, B. (2008). The Canadian child welfare system response to exposure to domestic violence investigations. Child Abuse and Neglect, 32, 393–404.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brown, L. K., & Brown, M. (1986). Dinosaurs divorce: A guide for changing families. New York: Little, Brown & Co.Google Scholar
  7. Carlson, B. E. (2000). Children exposed to intimate partner violence: Research findings and implications for intervention. Trauma, Violence & Abuse, 1(4), 321–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cosgrove, L., & Flynn, C. (2005). Marginalized mothers: Parenting without a home. Analyses of Social Issues and Policy, 5(1), 127–143.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Crager, M., & Anderson, L. (1997). Helping children who witness domestic violence: A guide for parents. Seattle, WA: King County Women’s Program.Google Scholar
  10. Cunningham, A., & Baker, L. (2004). What about me! Seeking to understand a child’s view of violence in the family. London, ON: Centre for Children & Families in the Justice System.Google Scholar
  11. Cunningham, A., & Baker, L. (2007). Little eyes, little ears: How violence against a mother shapes children as they grow. London, ON: Centre for Children & Families in the Justice System.Google Scholar
  12. Davies, D. (1991). Intervention with male toddlers who have witnessed parental violence. Families in Society, 72(9), 515–524.Google Scholar
  13. Davies, P. T., & Lindsay, L. L. (2004). Interparental conflict and adolescent adjustment: Why does gender moderate early adolescent vulnerability? Journal of Family Psychology, 18, 160–170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Davis, D. (1984). Something is wrong at my house. Seattle, WA: Parenting Press.Google Scholar
  15. DeVoe, E. R., & Smith, E. L. (2002). The impact of domestic violence on urban preschool children: Battered mothers’ perspectives. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 17(10), 1075–1101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Dube, S. R., Anda, R. F., Felitti, V. J., Edwards, V. J., & Williamson, D. F. (2002). Exposure to abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction among adults who witnessed intimate partner violence as children: Implications for health and social services. Violence and Victims, 17(1), 3–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Edleson, J. (2004). Should childhood exposure to adult domestic violence be defined as child maltreatment under the law? In P. G. Jaffe, L. L. Baker, & A. J. Cunningham (Eds.), Protecting children from domestic violence: Strategies for community intervention (pp. 8–29). New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
  18. Fantuzzo, J., Boruch, R., Beriama, A., Atkins, M., & Marcus, S. (1997). Domestic violence and children: Prevalence and risk in five major US cities. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 36(11), 6–122.Google Scholar
  19. Fantuzzo, J., & Fusco, R. (2007). Children’s direct sensory exposure to substantiated domestic violence crimes. Violence and Victims, 22(2), 158–171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fergusson, D. M., & Horwood, J. (1998). Exposure to interparental violence in childhood and psychosocial adjustment in young adulthood. Child Abuse and Neglect, 22(5), 339–357.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gewirtz, A. H., & Medhanie, A. (2008). Proximity and risk in children’s witnessing of intimate partner violence incidents. Journal of Emotional Abuse, 8(1/2), 67–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Gjelsvik, A., Verhoek-Oftedahl, W., & Pearlman, D. N. (2003). Domestic violence incidents of children witnesses: Findings from Rhode Island surveillance data. Women’s Health Issues, 13(2), 68–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Goldblatt, H. (2003). Strategies of coping among adolescents experiencing interparental violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 18(2), 532–552.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hawley, T. (2000). Safe start: How early experiences can help reduce violence. Chicago, IL: The Ounce of Prevention Fund.Google Scholar
  25. Huth-Bocks, A., Schettini, A., & Shebroe, V. (2001). Group play therapy for preschoolers exposed to domestic violence. Journal of Child & Adolescent Group Therapy, 11(1), 19–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Johnson, V. K., & Liebermann, A. F. (2007). Variations in behavior problems of preschoolers exposed to domestic violence: The role of mothers’ attunement to children’s emotional experiences. Journal of Family Violence, 22, 297–308.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Johnston, J. R., & Roseby, V. (1997). In the name of the child: A developmental approach to understanding and helping children of conflicted and violent divorce. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  28. Katz, L. F., Hessler, D. M., & Annest, A. (2007). Domestic violence, emotional competence and child adjustment. Social Development, 16(3), 513–538.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kelleher, K. J., Hazen, A. L., Coben, J. H., Wang, Y., McGeehan, J., Kohl, P. L., et al. (2008). Self-reported disciplinary practices among women in the child welfare system: Association with domestic violence victimization. Child Abuse and Neglect, 32, 811–818.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kerig, P. K., Fedorowicz, A. E., Brown, C. A., & Warren, M. (2000). Assessment and intervention for PTSD in children exposed to violence. Journal of Aggression Maltreatment & Trauma, 3(1), 161–184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kot, S., Landreth, G. L., & Giordano, M. (1998). Intensive child-centered play therapy with child witnesses of domestic violence. International Journal of Play Therapy, 7(2), 17–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Martin, S. E., & Clements, M. L. (2002). Young children’s responding to interparental conflict: Associations with marital aggression and child adjustment. Journal of Family Studies, 11(2), 231–244.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. McDermott, J., & Burck, F. W. (1990). Children of domestic violence, healing the wounds: A guide for moms. Rockland, NY: Rockland Family Shelter.Google Scholar
  34. McGee, C. (2000). Childhood experiences of domestic violence. London, UK: Jessica Kingsley Publishers Ltd.Google Scholar
  35. Munsch, R. (1986). Love you forever. Toronto, ON: Firefly Books.Google Scholar
  36. O’Hara, H. (1999). Children and their invisible needs. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 20(3), 253–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Ornduff, S. R., & Monahan, K. (1999). Children’s understanding of parental violence. Child & Youth Care Forum, 28(5), 351–364.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Poole, A., Beran, T., & Thurston, W. (2008). Direct and indirect services of children in domestic violence shelters. Journal of Family Violence, 23, 679–686.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Ragg, D. M., & Webb, C. (1992). Group treatment for the preschool child witness to spouse abuse. Journal of Child & Youth Care, 7(1), 1–19.Google Scholar
  40. Ross, S. M. (1996). Risk of physical abuse to children of spouse abusing parents. Child Abuse and Neglect, 20(7), 589–598.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Spee, G. (1996). Sad, sad William. Milwaukee, WI: Gareth Stevens Publishing.Google Scholar
  42. Stover, C. S., van Horn, P., Turner, R., Cooper, B., & Lieberman, A. F. (2003). The effects of father visitation on pre-school-aged witnesses of domestic violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 18(1), 1149–1166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Van Dalen, A., & Glasserman, M. (1997). My father, Frankenstein: A child’s view of battering parents. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 36(7), 1005–1007.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Centre for Children & Families in the Justice SystemLondonCanada

Personalised recommendations