Children and domestic violence: Emotional competencies in embodied and relational contexts



Callaghan JEM, Fellin LC, Alexander JH, Mavrou S & Papathanassiou M (2017) Children and domestic violence: Emotional competencies in embodied and relational contexts. Psychology of Violence, 7 (3), pp. 333-342.

Objective: This article engages critically with the claim, present in most psychological literature, that children who live with domestic violence are likely to be emotionally incompetent and dysregulated. We explore how children who experience domestic violence make sense of and experience their emotions.  Method: There were 107 young people aged 8–18 (44 boys, 63 girls) from Greece, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom who participated in semistructured and photo elicitation based interviews. These interviews were analyzed using Interpretive Interactionism.  Results: We identified 3 common themes relevant to children’s experience of emotions. In the theme Constrained Articulation—Expressing Emotions we explore how children use complex and contextually specific verbal and nonverbal ways to express embodied emotionality. The theme Emotion, Embodiment and Relationality considers how children’s emotionality is not experienced in social isolation, but in relationship with others. The third theme Catharsis, Comfort and Self-Soothing explores children’s strategies for coping with difficult emotions.  Conclusions: As reflexive and agentic beings, children experience, manage, and express their emotional lives as relational and contextually located. We challenge dominant explanatory models that conceptualize children who live with domestic violence as emotionally incompetent and dysregulated. We argue that these models underestimate the complexity of children’s emotional responses by decontextualizing and individualizing them as a set of abstract social skills.

domestic violence; domestic abuse; emotions; emotional competence; children

Psychology of Violence: Volume 7, Issue 3

Publication date31/07/2017
Publication date online01/07/2017
Date accepted by journal01/08/2017
PublisherAmerican Psychological Assocation

People (1)


Professor Jane Callaghan

Professor Jane Callaghan

Director Child Wellbeing & Protection, Social Work