Journal of Family Violence

, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 383–392 | Cite as

Traumatic Events and Maternal Education as Predictors of Verbal Ability for Preschool Children Exposed to Intimate Partner Violence (IPV)

  • Sandra A. Graham-Bermann
  • Kathryn H. Howell
  • Laura E. Miller
  • Jean Kwek
  • Michelle M. Lilly
Original Article


Despite research on the effects of intimate partner violence (IPV) on children, little is known about its impact on cognitive development. In this study, 87 preschool-aged children and their mothers exposed to IPV within the last two years participated in interviews to ascertain verbal ability, history of violence, and exposure to trauma. When compared to a national sample of 1,700 same-age children not evaluated for exposure to traumatic events, children exposed to IPV scored significantly lower on verbal ability, as assessed with standardized measures. In order to understand variation in verbal ability, multiple regression models were tested. Both prior exposure to traumatic events and the level of mother’s education were significant predictors of verbal ability. However, level of education mediated the relationship between traumatic events and the child’s verbal ability.


Preschool children Verbal ability Intimate partner violence Trauma 


  1. Ammar, N. H. (2006). Beyond the shadows: domestic spousal violence in a ‘democratizing’ Egypt. Violence and Abuse, 7, 244–259.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bane, M., & Ellwood, D. (1986). Slipping into and out of poverty: the dynamic of spells. Journal of Human Resources, 21(1), 1–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bedi, G., & Goddard, C. (2007). Intimate partner violence: what are the impacts on children? Australian Psychologist, 42, 66–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Blank, R. (1997). It takes a nation: A new agenda for fighting poverty. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  5. Bogat, G. A., DeJonghe, E., Levendosky, A. A., Davidson, W. S., & von Eye, A. (2006). Trauma symptoms among infants exposed to intimate partner violence. Child Abuse & Neglect, 30, 109–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Boney-McCoy, S., & Finkelhor, D. (1995). Prior victimization: a risk factor for child sexual abuse and for PTSD-related symptomatology among sexually abused youth. Child Abuse & Neglect, 19, 1401–1421.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Breiding, M. J., Black, M. C., & Ryan, G. W. (2005). Prevalence and risk factors of intimate partner violence in eighteen U.S. states/territories. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 34, 112–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Brewin, C. R., Andrews, B., & Valentine, J. D. (2000). Meta-analysis of risk factors for posttraumatic stress disorder in trauma-exposed adults. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68, 748–766.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. Brooks-Gunn, J., Klebanov, P. K., Smith, J., Duncan, G. J., & Lee, K. (2003). The Black-White test score gap in young children: contributions of test and family characteristics. Applied Developmental Science, 7, 239–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Butler, S. R., Marsh, H. W., Sheppard, M. J., & Sheppard, J. L. (1985). Seven-year longitudinal study of the early prediction of reading achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 77, 349–361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Caetano, R., Schafer, J., Field, C. A., & Nelson, S. (2002). Agreement on reports of intimate partner violence among White, Black and Hispanic couples. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 17(12), 1308–1322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cellini, S. R., McKernan, S., & Ratcliffe, C. (2008). The dynamics of poverty in the United States: A review of data, methods, and findings. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 27(3), 577–605CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Chemtob, C. M., Nomura, Y., & Abramovitz, R. A. (2008). Impact of conjoined exposure to the World Trade Center attacks and to other traumatic events on the behavioral problems of preschool children. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 162(2), 126–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Chen, J., Dunne, M. P., & Han, P. (2004). Child sexual abuse in China: a study of adolescents in four provinces. Child Abuse and Neglect, 28, 1171–1186.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Costello, E. J., Erkanli, A., Fairbank, J. A., & Angold, A. (2002). The prevalence of potentially traumatic events in childhood and adolescence. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 15, 99–112.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. Davis-Kean, P. E. (2005). The influence of parent education and family income on child achievement: the indirect role of parental expectations and the home environment. Journal of Family Psychology, 19, 294–304.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. De Billis, M. D. (2001). Developmental traumatology: the psychobiological development of maltreated children and it’s implications for research, treatment, and policy. Development and Psychopathology, 13, 539–564.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Duncan, G. J., & Rodgers, W. (1988). Longitudinal aspects of childhood poverty. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 50, 1007–1022.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Emdad, R., Sondergaard, H. P., & Theorell, T. (2005). Learning problems, impaired short-term memory, and general intelligence in relation to severity and duration of disease in posttraumatic stress disorder patients. Stress, Trauma and Crisis: An International Journal, 8, 25–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fagan, J. F., & Holland, C. R. (2002). Equal opportunity and racial differences in IQ. Intelligence, 30, 361–387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Foa, E. B. (1995). Posttraumatic stress diagnostic scale manual. Minneapolis: National Computer Systems.Google Scholar
  22. Gil, T., Calev, A., Greenberg, D., Kugelmass, S., & Lerer, B. (1990). Cognitive functioning in post-traumatic stress disorder. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 3, 29–45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Graham-Bermann, S. A., & Levendosky, A. A. (1998). Traumatic stress symptoms of children of battered women. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 13(1), 111–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Graham-Bermann, S. A., & Seng, J. S. (2005). Violence exposure and traumatic stress symptoms as additional predictors of health problems in high-risk children. Journal of Pediatrics, 146, 349–354.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Graham-Berman, S. A., DeVoe, E. R., Mattis, J. S., Lynch, S., & Thomas, S. A. (2006). Ecological predictors of traumatic stress symptoms in Caucasian and ethnic minority children exposed to intimate partner violence. Violence Against Women, 12(7), 1–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Graham-Bermann, S. A., Lynch, S., Banyard, V., DeVoe, E., & Halabu, H. (2007). Community-based intervention for children exposed to intimate partner violence. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 75(2), 199–209.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  27. Graham-Bermann, S. A., Howell, K. H., Habarth, J., Krishnan, S., Loree, A., & Bermann, E. (2008). Toward assessing traumatic events and stress symptoms in preschool children from low-income families. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 78(2), 220–228.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Graham-Bermann, S. A., Gruber, G., Girz, L., & Howell, K. H. (2009). Ecological factors discriminating among profiles of resilient coping and psychopathology in children exposed to domestic violence. Child Abuse & Neglect, 33(9), 648–660.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hattori, K. (2000). Sex differences in intelligence and evolutionary implications. D.Phil. thesis, University of Ulster.Google Scholar
  30. Howse, R. B., Lange, G., Farran, D. C., & Boyles, C. D. (2003). Motivation and self-regulation as predictors of achievement in economically disadvantaged young children. The Journal of Experimental Education, 71, 151–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Huttenlocher, J., Levine, S., & Vevea, J. (1998). Environmental input and cognitive growth: a study using time-period comparisons. Child Development, 69, 1012–1029.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Jarvis, K. L., Gordon, E. E., & Novaco, R. W. (2005). Psychological distress of children and mothers in domestic violence emergency shelters. Journal of Family Violence, 20(6), 389–402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Jensen, A. R. (1998). The g factor: The science of mental ability. London: Westport.Google Scholar
  34. Johnson, W., McGue, M., & Iacono, W. G. (2007). Socioeconomic status and school grades: placing their association in broader context in a sample of biological and adoptive families. Intelligence, 35, 526–541.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  35. Kaiser, S. M., & Reynolds, C. R. (1985). Sex differences on the Wechsler preschool and primary scale of intelligence. Personality and Individual Differences, 6, 405–407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Katz, F. K., Hessler, D. M., & Annest, A. (2007). Domestic violence, emotional competence and child adjustment. Social Development, 16, 513–538.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kilpatrick, K. L., & Williams, L. M. (1998). Potential mediators of post traumatic stress disorder in child witnesses to domestic violence. Child Abuse and Neglect, 22(4), 319–330.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  38. Kitzmann, K. M., Gaylord, N. K., Holt, A. R., & Kenny, E. D. (2003). Child witnesses to domestic violence: a meta-analytic review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 71, 339–352.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  39. Klebanov, P. K., Brooks-Gunn, J., & Duncan, G. (1994). Does neighborhood and family poverty affect mothers’ parenting, mental health, and social support? Journal of Marriage and the Family, 56, 441–455.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Koenen, C. K., Moffitt, T. E., Capsi, A., Taylor, A., & Purcell, S. (2006). Domestic violence is associated with environmental suppression of IQ in young children. Development and Psychopathology, 15, 297–311.Google Scholar
  41. Korenman, S., Miller, J. E., & Sjaastad, J. E. (1994). Long-term poverty and child development in the United States: results from the NLSY. Children and Youth Services Review, 17(1–2), 127–155.Google Scholar
  42. Levendosky, A. A., Huth-Bocks, A. C., Semel, M. A., & Shapiro, D. L. (2002). Trauma symptoms in preschool-age children exposed to domestic violence. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 17, 150–164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Lynn, R., & Irwing, P. (2008). Sex differences in mental arithmetic, digit span, and g defined as working memory capacity. Intelligence, 36, 226–235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Lynch, S. M., & Graham-Bermann, S. A. (2004). Exploring the relationship between positive work experiences and women’s sense of self in the context of partner violence. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 28(2), 159–167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Malik, N. M. (2008). Exposure to domestic and community violence in a nonrisk sample: associations with child functioning. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 23, 490–504.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  46. McGroder, S. M. (2000). Parenting among low-Income, African American single mothers with preschool-age children: patterns, predictors, and developmental correlates. Child Development, 71, 752–771.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  47. McKernan, S., & Ratcliffe, C. (2002). Transition events in the dynamics of poverty. The United States Department of Health and Human Services. Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.Google Scholar
  48. McKernan, S., & Ratcliffe, C. (2005). Events that trigger poverty entries and exits. Social Science Quarterly, 86(5), 1146–1169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Miller, L. T., & Vernon, P. A. (1996). Intelligence, reaction time, and working memory in 4 to 6 year old children. Intelligence, 22, 155–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Montie, J. E., & Fagan, J. F. (1988). Racial differences in IQ: item analysis of the Stanford Binet at 3 years. Intelligence, 12, 315–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Nelson, B. S., Wangsgaard, S., Yorgason, J., Kessler, M. H., & Carter-Vassol, E. (2002). Single- and dual-trauma couples: clinical observations of relational characteristics and dynamics. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 72, 58–69.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  52. Ostrowsi, S. A., Christopher, N. C., & Delahanty, D. L. (2007). Brief report: the impact of maternal posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms and child gender on risk for persistent posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms in child trauma victims. Journal of Pediatric Psychology, 32, 338–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Peoples, C. E., Fagan, J. F., & Drotar, D. (1995). The influence of race on 3-year-old children’s performance on the Stanford-Binet: fourth edition. Intelligence, 21, 69–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Perez, C. M., & Widom, C. S. (1994). Childhood victimization and long-term intellectual and academic outcomes. Child Abuse & Neglect, 18, 617–633.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Perry, D. B., & Pate, J. E. (1994). Neurodevelopment and the psychobiological roots of post- traumatic stress disorder. In L. F. Koziol & C. E. Stout (Eds.), The neuropsychology of mental disorders (pp. 129–146). Springfield: Charles C. Thomas.Google Scholar
  56. Petrides, K. V., Chamorro-Premuzic, T., Frederickson, N., & Furnham, A. (2005). Explaining individual differences in scholastic behaviour and achievement. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 75, 239–255.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  57. Piaget, J. P. (1952). The origins of intelligence in children. New York: International Universities Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Riger, S., Ahrens, C., & Blickenstaff, A. (2000). Measuring interference with employment and education reported by women with abusive partners: preliminary data. Victims of Violence, 15(2), 161–172.Google Scholar
  59. Saigh, P. A., Yasik, A. E., Oberfield, R. A., Halamandaris, P. V., & Bremner, J. D. (2006). The intellectual performance of traumatized children and adolescents with or without posttraumatic stress disorder. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 115, 332–340.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  60. Saltzman, K. M., Holden, G. W., & Holahan, C. J. (2005). The psychobiology of children exposed to marital violence. Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, 34(1), 129–139.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  61. Saltzman, K. M., Weems, C. F., & Carrion, V. G. (2006). IQ and posttraumatic stress symptoms in children exposed to interpersonal violence. Child Psychiatry & Human Development, 36, 261–272.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Smith, J. R., Brooks-Gunn, J., & Klebanov, P. (1997). Consequences of living in poverty for young children’s cognitive and verbal ability and early school achievement. In G. J. Duncan & J. Brooks-Gunn (Eds.), Consequences of growing up poor (pp. 132–189). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  63. Stevens, A. H. (1999). Climbing out of poverty, falling back in: measuring the persistence of poverty over multiple spells. Journal of Human Resources, 34(3), 557–588.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Stover, C. S., & Berkowitz, S. (2005). Assessing violence exposure and trauma symptoms in young children: a critical review of measures. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 18, 707–717.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  65. Straus, M. A. (1979). Measuring intrafamily conflict and violence: the conflict tactics (CT) scales. Journal of Marriage and Family, 41, 75–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Straus, M. A., Hamby, S. L., Boney-McCoy, S., & Sugarman, D. B. (1996). The revised conflict tactics scales (CTS2): development and preliminary psychometric data. Journal of Family Issues, 17, 283–316.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Strenze, T. (2007). Intelligence and socioeconomic success: a meta-analytic review of longitudinal research. Intelligence, 35, 401–426.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. van Tuijl, C., & Leseman, P. P. M. (2007). Increases in the verbal and fluid cognitive abilities of disadvantaged children attending preschool in the Netherlands. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 22, 188–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Wechsler, D. (2002). WPPSI-III administration and scoring manual. San Antonio: Psychological Corporation.Google Scholar
  70. Westerlund, M., & Lagerberg, D. (2008). Expressive vocabulary in 18-month-old children in relation to demographic factors, mother and child characteristics, communication style and shared reading. Child: Care, Health and Development, 34, 257–266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Xu, X., Campbell, J. C., & Zhu, F. (2001). Intimate partner violence against Chinese women: the past, present, and future. Trauma, Violence, and Abuse, 2, 296–315.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Ybarra, G. J., Wilkens, S. L., & Lieberman, A. F. (2007). The influence of domestic violence on preschooler behavior and functioning. Journal of Family Violence, 22, 33–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Zolotor, A., Kotch, J., Dufort, V., Winsor, J., Catellier, D., & Bou-Saada, I. (1999). School performance in a longitudinal cohort of children at risk for maltreatment. Maternal and Child Health Journal, 3(1), 19–27.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sandra A. Graham-Bermann
    • 1
  • Kathryn H. Howell
    • 1
  • Laura E. Miller
    • 1
  • Jean Kwek
    • 1
  • Michelle M. Lilly
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.Northern Illinois UniversityDeKalbUSA

Personalised recommendations