Faculty Associate Megan Holmes recently published a study linking aggression in school-age children to exposure to intimate partner violence (IPV) before age 3. Her study examined the link between children’s behavior during the school years and exposure to violence in the early years. Holmes compared the behavior of 107 children exposed to IPV only during their first three years ant not at all not after to the behavior of 339 children never exposed to IPV. Children exposed later, between the ages of 3 and 5, did not show differences in aggressive behaviors, suggesting that exposure to violence early in life can have even greater effects than parents realize. An estimated 3 to 10 million American children witness IPV annually. In addition, children who had an increased frequency of exposure before age 3 demonstrated an increase in aggressive behaviors at age 8.
Holmes was particularly interested in the effects of early life exposure to IPV on social behavior, a heretofore-unstudied area. In an article about the study at Science Daily, Holmes stated that these findings are particularly important because they suggest that counselors may be able to intervene with children in domestic violence shelters to help mitigate the effects of early exposure to IPV. Effective therapies to improve outcomes for children before the school years may include art and play therapies.