Empower Yolo would like to thank the Child Support Directors Association of California for their support at last year’s annual conference. Our shared vision of supporting children and families is especially important to families who are torn apart by domestic violence.
As part of the community safety net you might see a variety of behaviors from children who witness domestic violence. Statistics indicate that children witnessing violence between their parents are more likely to experience violence in their adult relationships. Children learn from observing adult behavior. By watching violence in the home children learn that domestic violence is acceptable, even appropriate. Parents are teachers, and actions speak louder than words.
There are many variables that impact the effects of violence on children including:
- Type, degree, and frequency of violence between parents
- Role the child plays (for example, calling the police, intervening physically—possible getting hit in the process, pretending to ignore the violence)
- Child’s state including: chronological emotional age, stage of physical development, health—physical and mental, intellectual functioning at the time of first occurrence, child’s relationship with each parent, dynamics of family system as a whole
- Degree of support available to the child from others
- Reaction of others to the battered parent’s requests for help (for example, if the police identify with the perpetrator and treat the incident lightly)
Children in violent homes may have:
- A combination of limited tolerance and poor impulse control
- Mixture of hope/depression that there is no way out
- Increased social isolation— increased peer isolation or complete identification with peers
- Increasing deceptiveness: lying, excuses for outings, stealing, cheating
- Poor definition of personal boundaries— violation of other people’s boundaries
Those feelings may present as:
- Worthlessness and powerlessness
- Guilt, feeling responsible for the problem
- Loneliness and feeling shy or fearful
- The need to be “perfect” to keep everyone happy
- Embarrassment and humiliation
What can you do to help?
- Let the children know it’s not their fault. Children sometimes worry that they have caused the violence, believing that had they done something differently, the violence could have been prevented.
- Help them figure out how to do things to make themselves feel safer. Ask them to talk about how they would take the following steps to make themselves safer at home:
- Don’t try to get in the middle of a fight.
- If you can get to a phone safely, call 911 for help and stay on the phone.
- Get to a “safe place.” Talk about which grownups a child can feel safe turning to. Talk about other people the child might turn to if a relative or neighbor is unable to or refuses to help right away.
To help children develop a safety plan you can tell them to:
- Stay out of the fight. You may want to get in the middle of the fight to protect and help your parent, but this is not a safe thing for you to do. Stay out of the room where the fighting is happening.
- Avoid getting trapped in a small room or closet or the kitchen. You may feel like hiding, but if you go into a corner or closet, it may be hard to get out again safely. Don’t get trapped in the kitchen where there are objects that can be used as weapons.
- Find a phone in a safe place. Call 911 for help and stay on the phone.
- Use a phone out of reach or out of sight of the batterer. If you can’t reach a phone safely in your own house, go to a neighbor, relative, or friend you trust and ask if you can use the phone. Call 911, or your local police emergency number, and stay on the phone until someone answers. Tell the dispatcher what is happening in your home and ask for immediate help. Give the dispatcher your address.
- Escape to a safe place. Find a relative or neighbor and ask for their help.Think about which grown-ups you would feel safe talking to. Don’t give up if the first person you go to won’t help. Try another adult. Keep trying until you find someone to help you.
- Above all, remember, it is not your fault!