Post-conflict Maternal Communication, Children's Understandings, and Child Functioning in Violent and Non-violent Families

Date of Award


Document Type

Undergraduate Capstone Project

Degree Name


Organizational Unit

Graduate School of Professional Psychology

First Advisor

Shelly Smith-Acuña

Second Advisor

B.B. Robbie Rossman

Third Advisor

Claire C. Poole


Parental violence, Family violence, Children of battered women


The last two decades have been marked by a growing public awareness of family violence. Research by social scientists has suggested that family violence is widespread (Gelles and Straus, 1988). It is estimated that every year 1.8 to 4 million women are physically abused by their partners (Novello, 1992). In fact, more women are abused by their husbands or boyfriends than are injured in car accidents, muggings, or rapes (Jaffe, Wolfe, and Wilson, 1990). A recent prevalence study by Fantuzzo, Boruch, Beriama, Atkins, and Marcus (1997) found that children were disproportionately present in households where there was a substantial incident of adult female assault. Experts estimate that 3.3 to 10 million children are exposed to marital violence each year (Carlson, 1984; Straus, 1991). Until recently, most researchers did not consider the impact of parental conflict on the children who witness this violence. The early literature in this field primarily focused on the incidence of violence against women and the inadequate response of community agencies (Jaffe et al, 1990). The needs of children were rarely considered. However, researchers have become increasingly aware that children exposed to marital violence are victims of a range of psychological maltreatment (e.g., terrorizing, isolation;Hart, Brassared & Karlson, 1996) and are at serious risk for the development of psychological problems (Fantuzzo, DePaola, Lambert, Martino, Anderson, and Sutton, 1991). Jouriles, Murphy and O'Leary (1989) found that children of battered women were four times more likely to exhibit psychopathology as were children living in non-violent homes. Further, researchers have found associations between childhood exposure to parental violence and the expression of violence in adulthood (Carlson, 1990). Existing research suggests that children who have witnessed marital violence manifest numerous emotional, social, and behavioral problems (Sternberg et al., 1993; Fantuzzo et al., 1991; Jaffe et al, 1990). Studies have found that children of battered women exhibit more internalizing and externalizing behavior problems than non-witnesschildren (Hughes and Fantuzzo, 1994; McCloskey, Figueredo, and Koss, 1995). In addition, children exposed to marital violence have been found to exhibit difficulties with social problem-solving, and have lower levels of social competence than nonwitnesses (Rosenberg, 1987; Moore, Pepler, Weinberg, Hammond, Waddell, & Weiser, 1990). Other reported difficulties include low self esteem (Hughes, 1988), poor school performance (Moore et al., 1990) and problems with aggression (Holden & Ritchie, 1991; Jaffe, Wolfe, Wilson, & Zak, 1986). Further, within the last decade, researchers have found that some children are traumatized by the witnessing experience, showing elevated levels of posttraumatic stress symptoms (Devoe & Graham-Bermann, 1997; Rossman, Bingham, & Emde, 1996; Kilpatrick, Litt, & Williams, 1997). These findings corroborate clinical reports that describe many exposed children as experiencing trauma reactions. It appears that the negative effects of witnessing marital violence are numerous and varied, ranging from mild emotional and behavioral problems to clinically significant levels of posttraumatic stress symptoms. These incidence figures and research findings indicate that children's exposure to violence is a significant problem in our nation today and has serious implications for the future.

Publication Statement

Copyright is held by the author. Permanently suppressed.


49 pages

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