[Witnessing Violence]: Behavior Effects on the Child

Children who witness or are victims of violence may exhibit a change in behavior. Head Start health managers and health staff, as well as all program staff and parents, will want to be aware of the behaviors listed on this tip sheet in case, when observed, they are an indication that a child is coping with such an experience.

The following is an excerpt from...
Head Start Bulletin logo

by Terra Bonds

Certain behavioral changes may be observed in children who have witnessed or been victims of violence (although some of the behaviors may also be in response to other "normal" developmental issues). If the child is exhibiting any of these behaviors in a sudden, intense, unrelenting fashion, gather as much information as possible about the child and his circumstances to determine the source of the behaviors and the best course of action. Your program's screening and ongoing assessments of children are important sources of information.

Common Behavior Changes

According to Honig (1993), children who have experienced violence may show its effects in any of the following ways–

  • Crying frequently or constantly
  • Wanting to be held constantly or stiffening when held
  • Exhibiting aggressive behavior (i.e., hitting, biting, or kicking
  • Sleeping irregularities (i.e., trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, nightmares)
  • Stuttering
  • Showing changes in developmental functioning (i.e., toileting practices)
  • Expressing fear or worry about being safe
  • Withdrawing from social interaction
  • Eating irregularities
  • Exhibiting psychosomatic symptoms (i.e., headaches, stomachaches)
  • Having lowered self-esteem
  • Having difficulty in paying attention
  • Being depressed


Honig, A.S. 1993. Mental health for babies: What do theory and research teach us? Young Children.

"[Witnessing Violence]: Behavior Effects on the Child." Bonds, Terra. Child Mental Health. Head Start Bulletin #73. DHHS/ACF/ACYF/HSB. 2002. English.

Last Reviewed: February 2010

Last Updated: June 5, 2015