Diversity of children's immediate coping responses to witnessing domestic violence

Nicole E. Allen, Angela M. Wolf, Deborah I. Bybee, Cris M. Sullivan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study explored the immediate coping strategies children employ (e.g., getting help) in response to witnessing physical and emotional violence against their mothers. Using a clustering technique, children's patterns of coping strategies were examined. While most children shared similar emotional reactions to the abuse against their mothers, their behavioral reactions varied substantially. Four distinct clusters were differentiated by whether or not children (1) became aggressive against the assailant and sought help, (2) became overprotective of their mothers, (3) avoided or ignored the abuse, or (4) had little response at all. An examination of cluster definers suggests that children's responses depend on situational factors rather than child characteristics (e.g., gender). Specifically, children who had little response at all to the abuse had witnessed less physical and emotional abuse than the other children. Children who became aggressive against the assailants were more likely to be living with them than children in other clusters. Virtually no differences were found across groups with regard to the relationship between coping strategy and child well being.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)123-147
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Emotional Abuse
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Children witnessing domestic violence
  • Coping strategies
  • Emotion-focused coping
  • Passive and active coping
  • Problem-focused coping

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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