Aggression in school-age children may be triggered when kids are 3 years old and younger and witness violence between their mothers and their partners. These kids tend to be more aggressive than other children their age.

Social worker Megan Holmes thinks it’s more a case of experience. She says, “People may think children that young are passive and unaware, but they pay attention to what’s happening around them." According the National Center for Children Exposed to Violence, between 3 and 10 million children witness some form of domestic violence every year.

Holmes says, "The sleeper effect of intimate partner violence (IPV) exposure: long-term consequences on young children’s aggressive behavior."” Holmes analyzed the behavior of 107 children exposed to IPV in their first three years but never again after age 3. The outcomes of those children were compared to 339 children who were never exposed.

Analyzing aggressive behaviors, Holmes saw no behavioral differences between those who did or did not witness violence between the ages of 3 and 5, but children exposed to violence before age 3 increased their aggression when they reached school age. And the more frequently IPV was witnessed, the more aggressive their later behavior.

Holmes says, ‘This gives social workers a window of opportunity between ages 3 and 5 to help the children socialize and learn what is appropriate behavior. Interventions can include play and art therapies to help children work through the violence they were exposed to."

With so many seemingly random shootings going on throughout the US in the last few years, it seems likely that the effects of this "passed down violence" last far into adulthood, so intervening at just the right time might be far more important than has previously been realized. 

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