Domestic violence is a harrowing experience for the children who witness it, even if it’s just hearing the abuse. Children who are exposed to this type of violence typically exhibit fear, anxiety, vulnerability, shame, sadness, depression and anger—not to mention physical effects. According to the CDC, negative childhood experiences such as witnessing domestic violence can lead to chronic health conditions and shorter life expectancies.
Children should never have to see, hear or observe abuse; but if they already have, there are ways to support them and begin the recovery process. Here are 10 things you can do to support a child who has witnessed domestic violence.
1. Spend Time Doing Things Your Child Likes
Ask your child what it is they enjoy doing and then spend time doing it. Even if it’s for only 10 minutes a day, going out for a bike ride, playing video games or reading a book with them can make a positive difference.
2. Be Present
In the moments you’re with your child, be present. Let go of any lingering thoughts, put your phone on silent mode and take a deep breath. Kids can recognize when a parent isn’t “all there.”
3. Don’t Just Hear, Listen
As simple as it may sound, listen to what your child has to say, whether it’s about their day or a fear they have. Hearing them is one thing, but listening allows you to process what they say and take steps to help them.
4. Speak in a Language They Understand
Speak to your child using age-appropriate language so they can better understand you.
5. Ask Questions, but Don’t Push
Not every child will be open to talking about their experience with domestic abuse, so it’s up to you to ask questions. At the same time, gauge the situation and don’t push a flurry of questions on your child. They may get overwhelmed and withdraw.
6. Validate Their Emotions
Validate your child’s emotions with this 3-step process:
- Acknowledge your child’s emotions. Even a simple, “I understand you’re sad” is sufficient acknowledgement.
- Acknowledge the source of the emotions. Identify what is causing these emotions. Although you may have an inkling of where they come from, it’s important for your child to express this out loud.
- Validate the emotions. Combine what you learned from Steps 1 & 2 and deliver a thoughtful validation to your child.
7. Show Empathy
Understand that not every day will go according to plan. Things that are minor to you may trigger your child, so make sure to empathize and respond accordingly.
8. Educate Yourself
A perfect parent doesn’t exist. You’ll never know everything about parenting, but you can learn more by educating yourself. Go to your local library and check out a few books on domestic violence to make yourself more knowledgeable on the subject. Even a quick online query can provide a wealth of resources.
9. Introduce Therapy
A child who witnesses domestic violence in their home will likely experience a loss of safety, security, and trust. A therapist can help the child process this trauma and loss of safety and learn that violence is not an appropriate form of communication. This can help the child break the often-inevitable cycle of abuse. In addition, therapy can go a long way in helping the parent as well, whether or not they were the actual victim of the domestic violence.
Self-care is necessary if you want to successfully support your child. Take care of yourself by talking to friends and family, building a support system, exercising, eating healthy, practicing self-compassion, joining therapy and doing things you love.
Our experienced Boca Raton family law attorneys are here to help you through this difficult time. Call us at (561) 336-6082 or contact us online immediately!