Healing for Kids and Teens in Families of DV
Children living in homes with domestic violence will be affected in numerous ways.* This can be depressing. What is a non-abusive parent to do? Can anything be done to help their children to heal?
Yes, there are. Today I present good news and advice from Promising Futures which gives “Best Practices for Serving Children, Youth, and Parents Experiencing Domestic Violence.”
On their page, they say:
The most important protective resource to enable a child to cope with exposure to violence is a strong relationship with a competent, caring, positive adult, most often a parent, (Osofsky, 1999).
Here is a summary of their advice:
Healing begins with relationships. A non-abusive parent is the best tool for helping kids heal from trauma, especially if the parent works on getting emotionally healthy herself. Work on repairing or creating a supportive parent-child relationship by spending time together.
Pay close attention to non-verbal cues. Provide positive verbal reinforcement whenever possible.
Help children and teens know what to expect. Provide a highly structured and predictable home and learning environment, especially for younger children.
Let the child know that it is OK to talk about what has happened. When children are ready, it helps to be able to talk about the violence in their lives with trusted adults. Answer their questions honestly, at their appropriate age-level; being aware that young children think differently than adults and need careful explanations about scary events. Find ways for teens to express feelings, perhaps by writing, journaling, poems, art, etc.
Foster children’s self-esteem. Children who live with violence need reminders that they are lovable, competent and important. Some ways to do this for teens are:
- Create opportunities for the teen to achieve a sense of mastery and a belief that their efforts can make a
difference, perhaps by helping others, or through part-time work.
- Participation in a range of extra-curricular activities such as music, sports, theater, art, volunteering, etc.
Give children and teens choices whenever possible. Allowing children to feel in control can help alleviate feelings of being overwhelmed and restore a sense of safety.
Teach alternatives to violence.
- Help kids learn conflict resolution skills and about non-violent ways of playing.
- Serve as a role model for children in resolving issues in respectful and non-violent ways.
- Talk to teens about healthy relationships and help them understand the warning signs of an unhealthy dating relationship
Don’t try to parent alone. Identify and collaborate with other caregivers in the child’s life. For teens, try to create strong social support networks with peers, teachers, coaches, extended family, etc. Seek a committed mentor or other person from outside the family.
Outside the home. Be your child’s advocate at school – help them get the services they might need from counselors, specialty teachers, etc. At the same time, try not to excessively shelter teens from challenging situations that provide opportunities to develop coping skills.
Repeat. Expect to have to do these things again and again.
Parenting children and teens who have experienced domestic violence in your home is a challenge – I know, I’ve been there. Kids may react to their abuse in unexpected ways. Some may become angry, and behave abusively themselves. Others may withdraw, or become people pleasers. They may have lost respect for you if they have seen you as the “victim”, and may align with your abuser.
I experienced all of these things at different times when I finally escaped my abuser. Parenting became a trial for a long period of time. Sometimes I would hide in my room when certain children were around, praying for strength on my knees, with my face to the floor. Raising those kids was a task I felt totally inadequate to perform.
Praise the Lord, I was not alone. God filled in the gaps where I really WAS inadequate. As each one went off to college, I was amazed at His grace. He took my feeble efforts, and very unformed children, and gave me back strong, God-loving adults. Only a loving God can do something this wonderful!
So, my encouragement to all former victims of domestic violence is this: do the hard work of becoming the parent your children need, and ask God to do the rest. He is faithful.
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
Children are a heritage from the Lord,
offspring a reward from him.
* See my blog about the damage abuse does to the brains of children