Childhood and adulthood have become understood as distinct stages of the lifecourse, which continue to shape idealised notions of relationships between children and adults (James 2013). Societally we hope that children are cared for and protected by adults to live happy childhoods. However, adult and children’s lives cannot be separated so easily. Children’s lives, as much as those of adults, are located within societal structures, including those of violence. One of the sites in which such structures can have significant effects can be within the domestic sphere. While research has shown that domestic violence can have detrimental effects upon children’s health and development (Cleaver et al. 2011, Edleson 1999, Kitzmann, Gaylord et al. 2003, Osofsky 2003), more research is needed that explicitly focuses on engaging with children’s perspectives on their experiences. While there are some exceptions (see for example Stanley et al.2012), overall there is a lack of understanding of the ways in which children make sense of early exposure to domestic violence. This is important because the ways that children come to understand such experiences, and their role within them, will also impact on the ways that they navigate their adult lives. Stories of how children live within and beyond violent homes need to be told.
While the home is often a site that is romanticised, homes can also be uncomfortable spaces where children can be unable to feel at home (Valentine 1993). They can be fearful spaces where children can learn to be on high alert (Nissen 2013), perhaps anticipating interpersonal violence between adults or towards them to occur at any moment. In the cases where violent acts might not be directly targeted at the child, children are still implicated in this violence (Nissen 2013). Children can learn to carefully manage their actions as they navigate an unstable emotional terrain in an effort to maintain some sense of equilibrium for themselves and their family members (Nissen 2013). The external violence they witness can become internalised, with the possibility of leading to acts of violence toward the self or others (Osofsky 1997). Their bodies absorb memories of trauma, not necessarily available to conscious thought (Walkerdine et al. 2013), but which can pattern children’s embodied knowledges of ways in which actions can seem to act as catalysts for violence. These emotional experiences live in the body and can continue to have resonance in adulthood in ways that cannot be spoken (Walkerdine et al. 2013). This recognition of childhood trauma as a bodily experience gives rise to questions about how early experiences are transmitted into adulthood.
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Stanley, N., Miller, P., & Richardson-Foster, H. (2012) Engaging with children’s and parents’ perspectives on domestic violence. Child and Family Social Work, 17: 192–201
Walkerdine, V., Olsvold, A., & Rudberg, M. (2013) Researching Embodiment and Intergenerational Trauma using the work of Davoine and Gaudilliere: History walked in the door. Subjectivity. 6: 272-297
Dr Lisa Procter’s research foregrounds how children make meaning of their own lives and relationships to others through lived emotional experiences of place. Her research has explored the role of emotion across a range of locations, including schools, greens spaces and parks, neighbourhoods, and virtual spaces. She is editor of the book ‘Children’s Spatialities: Embodiment, Emotion and Agency.