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

Jane Callaghan, Lisa Fellin, Jo Alexander, Stavroula Mavrou, Maria Papathanassiou

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticlepeer-review


Objective: This paper 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: 107 young people aged 8-18 (44 boys, 63 girls) from Greece, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom participated in semi-structured and photo elicitation based interviews. These interviews were analysed using Interpretive Interactionism. Results: We identified three 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 non-verbal 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 conceptualise 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 decontextualising and individualising them as a set of abstract social skills.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPsychology of Violence
Early online date20 Mar 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 20 Mar 2017


  • Children
  • contextualization
  • domestic abuse
  • domestic violence
  • emotion regulation
  • emotions
  • interpersonal violence
  • relationships


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