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Children

Talking to Your Children About Domestic Violence

Children who are exposed to domestic violence can have a wide range of reactions. Even just being around any type of violence or abuse one time can leave an affect. The initial reactions of a child who has witnessed abuse is usually fear, confusion, and (depending on the age) self-blame. Children process experiences differently than adults, and often differently than how we would expect them to. It’s important to talk with your child about things that they might not fully understand, and to reassure them that they are not to blame for anyone else’s actions.

Other reactions that your child might exhibit can include:

  • Blaming others (for the abuse, or their own actions)
  • Acting out (physically, verbally)
  • Having trouble sleeping
  • Having trouble at school with peers or academics
  • Complaining of physical ailments/health issues (stomachaches, headaches, etc.)
  • Anxiety/nervousness
  • Avoiding people or activities

These are just a few ways that stress can be acted on. If your child begins acting differently than normal, that may be their way of processing what they have experienced.

Knowing how to start the conversation with your child about domestic abuse can be the hardest part. It’s important to know that you should take the lead in initiating the conversation- most likely, they are too scared or unsure to bring it up themselves. If you are not sure how you want to phrase what you should say, find someone you trust and talk with them about planning it out. Here are a few steps you can take in order to have a constructive conversation with your child:

  • Let them know that you care about them, and want to listen and support them.
  • Ask open-ended questions about what your child thinks happened, and how they felt about it.
  • Listen to what they say without interrupting or judging. You can help them identify some things that they might be feeling. (For example, “I can understand why this made you angry.”)
  • Tell them that what happened is not their fault.
  • Remind them that violence and abuse is not okay. Talk to them in a way that is appropriate for their age (for instance, saying “Sometimes people do bad things” is great for a young child, but a teenager will probably be expecting a more in-depth explanation).
  • Praise their efforts to communicate their thoughts and feelings. (For example, “I’m glad you are talking with me about this.”)
  • Be patient if your child has a hard time understanding, or doesn’t want to talk. You can have other conversations- just let them know that you care and are supporting them.
  • Stay calm, and ask for help if you ever need it. There are a lot of questions that one person may not have all the answers to.

A great way to encourage confidence in children is to talk through some things that they can do whenever they feel unsafe, anxious, or scared. There are lots of different types of safety plans, which can include going to a different place (like their room, or the neighbor’s house, etc.), calling someone you both can trust and feel comfortable talking to, participating in an activity like journaling or a sport, etc. Here are some things you can plan out together with your child:

  • Something they can do whenever they are reminded of violent or abusive experiences- “triggers” (loud noises, raised voices, or actions correlated to certain events). This can be listening to music, reading, or taking a walk.
  • Enrolling your child in a mentoring or out-of-school program where they feel safe, if they are comfortable with it.
  • Talk with them about where they want to do activities like homework, or what they want to read or participate in. Let them make decisions.
  • Encourage your child to talk to people that they feel comfortable with. They might choose to confide in close friends, or a trusted teacher, coach, or counselor.

Make sure that your child knows that they can trust you with their thoughts and feelings. Even if they want to have the more in-depth discussions with other people, that doesn’t mean they don’t want to talk about it ever again with you. Let them take their time in processing what they’ve experienced, and let them know that you will be there for them when they are ready.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Peace at Home can answer any of your questions, and direct you to local resources that can assist you as well.



You can find more specific information on talking with your child based on their age here.

Domestic Violence and Child Custody FAQ

Child custody issues come up frequently when survivors of domestic violence leave the abusive relationship. Below are some of the most common questions we receive about child custody. Contact our legal department today at 479-442-9811 if you have additional questions or need legal representation.

Can an abusive parent get custody or visitation?

An abusive parent may be allowed custody or visitation if the judge believes you and your children can stay safe. To ensure this, the judge can require supervised visits or arrange for the pick-up and drop-off of your children to take place in a protected space.

If the judge does not believe you or your children are still in danger, he/she may order custody or visitation without any protective measures. As a result, it is important the judge believes you when you talk about the violence. You may want to keep evidence of the violence ready, if you have any.

If you feel there is a risk of violence, you can ask the judge:

  • For pick-up and drop-off of your children to happen in a protected place
  • To allow someone other than you to deliver or pick-up the children for visits
  • To allow only email contact between the parents

How does a judge make decisions about custody?

The judge will always look to the child’s best interests. So if you are filing for custody, you should be able to show how the custody arrangement you want is in your child’s best interests. To do this, you should be prepared with as much information as possible about yourself and the other parent. If you are accusing the other parent of abuse, the judge will look at the abuser’s history of causing such injury, physical harm, assault, or causing reasonable fear of injury, physical harm, and assault to another person.

A judge may look at a history of drug or alcohol abuse and order testing for either or both parents. If the child is of a sufficient age and mental capacity, the judge can also consider the preferences of the child.

What is mediation?

Mediation uses a neutral third-party to help parents agree on issues relating to custody and visitation of the child. The court may order you to take part in mediation.

You should talk to a lawyer or domestic violence advocate before going to mediation, or have a lawyer go with you if you can. Your abuser may use mediation as an opportunity for further control and abuse, and he/she may intimidate you into thinking an agreement is reasonable when it may not be. A lawyer and/or victim advocate can help you prepare for this.

How can Peace at Home help?

If you have experienced domestic violence and are going through a custody dispute with your abuser, you do not have to go through the process alone.  Peace at Home’s legal department can help you acquire legal representation, accompany you to the court hearing, provide you with emotional support, and help you develop a safety plan. Call 479.442.9811 to speak with an advocate about our legal services.


Effects of Domestic Violence on Children

Witnessing domestic violence can have long-lasting negative effects on children. When domestic violence is in the home, many children directly witness the abuse occurring. Even if children do not see incidents of physical abuse in the home, they are often more aware of abuse than the abused parent realizes. Children can hear yelling and fighting noises from other rooms and witness the aftermath of physical abuse.

Children may respond to witnessing domestic violence in a variety of ways.

They may –

  • Become fearful or anxious over what will happen in the home
  • Always feel on guard – “walking on eggshells” to avoid the abusers outbursts
  • Blame themselves for the violence in the home
  • Have trouble concentrating in school
  • Try to protect the abused parent
  • Attempt to run away because they feel home is a dangerous place
  • Experiment with alcohol, drugs, or other high risk behaviors to cope with their feelings

Children who have witnessed domestic violence need support. As parents who have experienced abuse seek support for themselves, there are also ways to help the children.

Here are some ways to support children who have experienced domestic violence:

  • Let them know that the abuse is not their fault.
  • Come up with a family safety plan for staying safe before, during and after leaving abuse. Our Family Safety Plan can help with this.
  • After leaving the abuse, help the child connect with a counselor. Peace at Home offers counseling for families and many schools have options as well.
  • Teach alternatives to violence.
  • Give them daily reminders that they are loved, valued, and supported.
  • Let them know you are here to listen if they want to talk about how the violence made them feel.
  • Be a role model for treating others with respect and kindness.