How to Help Children who have been in the Middle of Domestic Violence?
Even if a child is not the “direct” victim in domestic violence or domestic battery situation, it does not mean that the child won’t be affected in the long run.
Sometimes, the effects on the child are much longer and more impactful than the direct victim themself, even though they are not physically harmed.
Types of Exposure
There are many ways a child or children can be exposed to a domestic violence situation in the home. Some types are:
- Seeing mother or threatened, demeaned, or battered
- Being in the middle of an assault by accident, because the abuser intends it, or because the child tries to intervene
- Overhearing conflict and battering
- Seeing the aftermath, such as mother’s injuries and trauma reactions
- Living in a household dominated by tension and fear
- Being raised by parents whose ability to care for them is compromised by domestic violence
- Being used and manipulated by the abuser to hurt the battered parent
- Suffering the consequences of economic abuse
Effects on Children in Domestic Violence Situations
Children and minors who are exposed to domestic violence experience emotional, mental, and social damage that can affect their developmental growth. Some children lose the ability to feel empathy for others. Other children also have a hard time making friends and sustaining healthy relationships.
Children that regularly view domestic violence situations may start to think they are not worthy of a loving, safe, and stable home-life. Those thoughts can be incredibly damaging to a minor or young child.
Some concrete effects on children include:
- Believing the abuse to their parent is their fault
- Turning against mother or father or having ambivalent feelings about both parents
- Feeling that they are alone, that there is no one who understands them
- Being afraid to talk about the abuse or express their feelings
- Developing negative core beliefs about themselves and others
- Developing unhealthy coping and survival reactions, such as mental health or behavior problems
- Believing that the world is a dangerous and unpredictable place
- Being isolated from people who might find out about the abuse or offer help
Unfortunately, several studies also reveal that children who witness domestic violence are more likely to be affected by violence as adults – either as victims or perpetrators.
This continues the cycle of domestic violence in children learning that it is okay to handle problems in the home with violence. Viewing domestic violence, no matter how regular, normalizes the acts of violence.
This can both teach children they can either become an abuser or be compliant in becoming a victim of domestic violence. Neither is safe or a healthy way to grow up.
Lastly, children in such circumstances grow up in a constantly stressful home life and could feel under more pressure to protect themselves, their victim-parent, and/or their siblings. This can lead to an unreasonable and dangerous amount of stress with medical consequences.
Steps for Parents to Take
This can be difficult for parents since they, too, are involved in the domestic violence situation as well. Kids are resilient and perceptive, so it is important for a parent to discuss what the child is seeing and feeling at home.
Here are some pointers to discuss with your child:
- Violence is not okay
- It isn’t the child’s fault for the abuse that is occurring
- Remind your child that it is not the child’s job to “fix” the problems at home
- Remind your child that you will do all you can to keep them safe
Sometimes it is easier for a child to open up when they see their parent(s) opening up and being vulnerable. Therefore, it is encouraged to take the lead when starting a difficult conversation with your child. When you open the conversation, you’re telling your child it is safe to talk and that he or she doesn’t have to be alone with their thoughts and worries. This is invaluable to protecting your child and avoiding long-term consequences to their mental and emotional health.
Additionally, it may be helpful to seek therapy for your child that has witnessed domestic violence. As much as you, as the parent, should speak with your child about the violence, it’s hard. It is an emotional situation that is incredibly difficult to navigate.
There are child therapists available that are specially trained to speak with children and their experiences in their household. The third-party perspective and help may aid your child.
Lastly, always remember to protect yourself as well if you are the victim. You can’t protect your child if you aren’t safe and present for them.