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Even if children don’t see domestic violence, they almost always know it’s happened.

And sometimes that’s just as bad as witnessing it first-hand, Caroline Collins, Child Welfare Scholars coordinator with Northwest Nazarene University, said.

“The myth or magic of what goes on behind closed doors is sometimes more scary when mom is crying” and the children don’t know why, Collins said.

Collins, who is a women’s and children’s counselor with the Nampa Family Justice Center, said parents in a violent relationship often don’t realize how much their children retain.

Domestic violence in the home impacts almost every aspect of a child’s routine.

“If they’re constantly in that fight or flight and crisis mode, they’re not concentrating at school,” Collins said.

In addition, male children tend to act out and maybe even bully, while female children shut down and suffer from low self-esteem.

Former Caldwell School District counselor Kathleen Curtis said when school officials learn a child comes from a violent home, their first priority is to ensure the student’s safety.

Second, she said, is to set a plan.

“(We establish) who they can talk to and where they can go,” Curtis said. Counselors guide students through possible options, like turning on a TV when parents are fighting or going to a nearby relative’s house.

“We make sure they have a step-by-step plan they can follow by themselves when they’re just little tykes trying to figure out what they’re going to do,” Curtis said.

Collins said simply talking with children is the best way to see if a situation at home is negatively affecting them. Developmental regression, like bed wetting, thumb sucking or separation anxiety, can also be a sign of trauma at home.

She said a positive adult in a child’s life can have a “huge” impact in mitigating the effects of trauma.

© 2013 Idaho Press-Tribune

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