Consider, protect children, forgotten victims of violence at household level, says expert
Faith Kyoumukama @Martkinel
With school closures, children have spent more time at home and inadvertently exposed to domestic violence either as victims or witnesses.
Though there is no adequate data, helplines noted a surge in domestic violence during lockdown.
Gender-based violence researchers say domestic violence increases when families spend time together — even on happy occasions.
The devastating effects of domestic violence on women are well documented; far less is told about the impact on children who witness parent or caregivers being subjected to violence.
When children are exposed to such violence where they consider ‘safe,’ psychologists explain, it increases anxiety and stress, which is damaging to their mental health in general.
Most children grow up mentally healthy, but surveys suggest that more children and young people have problems with their mental health today than 30 years ago.
The World Health Organisation say globally 10-20 per cent of children and adolescents experience mental disorders.
Half of all mental illnesses begin by the age of 14 and three-quarters by mid-20s.
Another report by the Mental Health Foundation shows mental health problems affect about one in 10 children and young people, including depression, anxiety and conduct disorder, and are often a direct response to what is happening in their lives.
The report also says 70 per cent of children and young people who experience a mental health problem have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age.
How do you protect the mental health of a child? Counselling Psychologist Esther Mbau says having routine, physical health, in terms of eating properly, playing and having an emotional conversation with children keeps their mental health in check.
“Play is important to a child just like work is important to a grown-up. It gives them a sense of fulfilment and through it, they communicate a lot of issues and through this, they ventilate some emotional build-up.
It’s also important to create a routine for a child, eating, sleeping and reading time.
Children thrive and develop where there is stability and predictability. That way, they are able to preempt what happens next,” she says.
Mbau adds it’s important for parents to create a 20 minute moment of quality time to speak to their children and give them a sense of stability.
“Have a conversation with your child; let them express what they feel. Go down to their level of understanding, this way you keep them from hiding their emotions and they gain trust in the parents.
Research has shown children who have grown in violent homes end up being perpetrators as adults, especially when left untreated.
This is mostly associated with reality that children imitate what adults do and not what is said, and subsequently, if they grow up in violent homes it becomes second nature.
“If children of such kind do not get treated, they are likely to become abusers when they are adults. It’s important for them to get psychosocial support to heal this trauma.
The child should have a safe environment created for them so that they can grow up as children and continue to develop away from the trauma,” she adds.
Some researchers have also stated there is an increased risk of children becoming victims of abuse, an intersection between domestic violence and child abuse.
A study by United Nations Children’s Fund shows that among victims of child abuse, 40 per cent report domestic violence in the home.
Psychologist share that children who grow with violence in homes learn early and powerful lessons about use of violence in interpersonal relationships to dominate others and might even be encouraged in doing so, which makes them fall into the trap of becoming victims or abusers.
Dr Mbau explains that fear instilled during the trauma might negatively affect their personality and behaviour.
“You are likely to find them with trust issues, low self-esteem, anger build up.
These problems can take forms of psychosomatic illness including suicidal thoughts, and even bedwetting.
Later in life, they might turn to substance abuse and even the extreme of criminal behaviour,” she adds.
She calls for more effort in improving situation. “More needs to be done, especially in creating safe zones for both mothers and children.
It is a step in the right direction the government is ensuring all public and private hospitals have a counsellor or psychologist for both,” she says.