Renfrewshire Council

Impact on children of domestic abuse

Children in families where domestic abuse occurs may witness abuse, or be abused themselves. Children react to domestic abuse in lots of different ways. Below are examples of the form this reaction may take.


  • Anger - at the perpetrator or misdirected at other adults or children
  • Guilt - they believe that they have caused the situation or should have done more to stop or avoid the situation
  • Isolation - they have feelings that no one will understand, believe them or cares enough to listen and help
  • Fear - that the perpetrator will carry out their threats or find them if they escape


  • Bed wetting - inappropriate to age
  • Exhaustion - they appear dozy or sleepy, listless and lifeless and day dream a lot
  • Injury - they abuse themselves or self harm
  • Medical issues - they can suffer from such things as asthma, eczema, hair loss, bowel disorders or headaches

Mental health

  • Anxiety - which can lead to self harm and low self esteem
  • Depression - they can withdraw or even contemplate suicide

Child abuse - some signs and symptoms

Sexual abuse

  • being overly affectionate or knowledgeable in a sexual way inappropriate to the child's age
  • medical problems such as chronic itching, pain in the genitals, venereal disease
  • other extreme reactions such as depression, self-mutilation, suicide attempts, running away, overdoses, anorexia
  • personality changes such as becoming insecure or clinging
  • regressing to younger behaviour patterns such as thumb sucking or bringing out discarded cuddly toys
  • sudden loss of appetite or compulsive eating
  • being isolated or withdrawn or inability to concentrate
  • suddenly drawing sexually explicit pictures
  • trying to be 'ultra good' or perfect or overreacting to criticism

Physical abuse

  • unexplained recurrent injuries or burns
  • improbable excuses or refusal to explain injuries
  • wearing clothes to cover injuries, even in hot weather
  • refusal to undress for gym
  • bald patches
  • chronic running away
  • fear of medical help or examination
  • self destructive tendencies
  • aggression towards others
  • fear of physical contact - shrinking back if touched
  • admitting that they are punished, but the punishment is excessive
  • fear of suspected abuser being contacted

Emotional abuse

  • physical, mental and emotional development lags
  • sudden speech disorders
  • continual self-deprecation (for example, 'I'm stupid, ugly, worthless')
  • over reaction to mistakes
  • extreme fear of any new situations
  • inappropriate response to pain ( I deserve this)
  • neurotic behaviour ( such as rocking, hair twisting, self-mutilation)


  • constant hunger
  • poor personal hygiene
  • constant tiredness
  • poor state of clothing
  • emaciation
  • untreated medical problems
  • no social relationships
  • compulsive scavenging

This list doesn't show all possible reactions - your child may react in different ways.

No one deserves to be abused and you don't have to live with it.