Good Night: Thoughts of A Seven Year Old

The old house creaked as I lay in my bed frantically listening… The room had a cold draft permeating through it as the chill bumps started to spread all over my body. I wasn’t sure if the bumps were from the cold winter night or if they were from the fear that was paralyzing my whole being. I didn’t know what was going to happen next…

 He had been drinking again like he usually does on Friday nights. She argued with him as always. Some nights they scream at each other for hours and go to separate parts of the house. Many times she came into our room. They screamed hurtful things back and forth with the door as the only barrier between them. A few times we saw the Incredible Hulk in person as he kicked down the door to get her. Many nights I lay in bed and watch the blue and red lights flashing outside my window. I used to love colorful lights but now each time I saw them I felt terror inside.

There are four of us ranging from the age of two up to eight. Sometimes we would go in the closet when the arguments started to try to block it out. Other times we couldn’t do that because they became violent. This particular night he was threatening to kill her. I was petrified because he was much bigger than her and this night he seemed much angrier than usual. Sometimes he grabbed her and pulled her in the room and all we heard was thumping sounds and her screaming. She would yell for help. We didn’t know what to do so we all stood around; some crying and others holding their heads pacing. There were some nights I jumped in-between them because I saw him pick up a bottle to hit her in the head. I screamed “stop!” and grabbed it from him. I knew I wasn’t big enough to hold him back if he really wanted to kill her but I felt my presence would bring him out of that blind rage and back to reality. 

Tonight I listened frantically trying to figure out what was going to happen next. If it sounded like he was going to hit her I would have to go out there. I was praying real hard that he would go to sleep. They kept on yelling and I pulled the comforter over my head. Then all of a sudden there was silence. I stared into the darkness as I strained my ears to hear movement. If I heard a slight patter on the floor I knew she was OK but any loud noise or dead silence would horrify me. It was a possibility that this was the night that he had succeeded in all the threats he was making all these years. I slowly sat up in my bed thinking I would hear better. Nothing. It was pure silence. My heart began to beat fast from fear. How am I going to know? What should I do? God help me… Someone help us. Is she dead? These thoughts flooded my mind, big drops of tears started to roll from my eyes. It seemed like everything was happening in slow motion. It was hard for me to catch my breath. All I could see was blackness and I heard silence… The sweat began to pour from my hands and I decided I had to go look. Just as I slid my feet over the side of the bed I heard him begin to snore… Did he kill her in a drunken rage and then passed out? I wiped the tears from my face as I put my feet on the cold hard wooden floor. 

Just as I began to tip toe to the door I heard the pitter-patter of feet. I knew it was her. I began to sigh and my heart began to beat normally again. I heard the creak of the couch and I knew she was going to sleep there as she usually does on Friday nights. I slowly crept back into my bed and snuggled up in the blanket. I pulled the pillow close and thanked God for saving her life. I looked out into the darkness of my room and listened to the loud snoring coming from his room. It was music to my ears. I thought to myself. The weekend is not over we have two more nights to go. I better get some sleep so I’ll be ready for tomorrow. Good night!

Domestic violence is a major social problem that has a devastating effect on the children as well as the adult. The statistics are heart wrenching.

On average, more than three women and one man are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day.

(Bureau of Justice Statistics, Intimate Partner Violence in the U.S. 1993-2004, 2006.)

One in four women (25%) has experienced domestic violence in her lifetime.

(The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Justice, Extent, Nature, and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence, July 2000)

Approximately 3.3 to 10 million children witness the abuse of a parent or adult caregiver each year (Carlson, 1984; Straus and Gelles, 1990).

Childhood problems associated with exposure to domestic violence fall into three primary categories:

1) Behavioral, social, and emotional problems. Higher levels of aggression, anger, hostility, oppositional behavior, and disobedience; fear, anxiety, withdrawal, and depression; poor peer, sibling, and social relationships; and low self-esteem.

2) Cognitive and attitudinal problems. Lower cognitive functioning, poor school performance, lack of conflict resolution skills, limited problem solving skills, pro-violence attitudes, and belief in rigid gender stereotypes and male privilege.

3) Long-term problems. Higher levels of adult depression and trauma symptoms and increased tolerance for and use of violence in adult relationships.

Additional assessment factors that influence the impact of domestic violence on children include:

– Nature of the violence. Children who witness frequent and severe forms of violence or fail to observe their caretakers resolving conflict may undergo more distress than children who witness fewer incidences of physical violence and experience positive interactions between their caregivers.

– Coping strategies and skills. Children with poor coping skills are more likely to experience problems than children with strong coping skills and supportive social networks.

– Age of the child. Younger children appear to exhibit higher levels of emotional and psychological distress than older children. Age-related differences might result from older children’s more fully developed cognitive abilities to understand the violence and select various coping strategies to alleviate upsetting symptoms.

– Elapsed time since exposure. Children often have heightened levels of anxiety and fear immediately after a violent event. Fewer observable effects are seen in children as more time passes after the violent event.

– Gender. In general, boys exhibit more “externalized behaviors” (e.g., aggression or acting out) while girls exhibit more “internalized” behaviors” (e.g., withdrawal or depression).

– Presence of child physical or sexual abuse. Children who witness domestic violence and are physically abused are at risk for increased levels of emotional and psychological maladjustment than children who only witness violence and are not abused (Carlson, 2000; Edleson, 1999; Hughes et al, 2001).

SAFETY ALERT: If you are in danger call 911, a local hotline, or the U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.