Children who grow up in a home that is violent are always victims. When there is violence in the home, children easily become victims of physical abuse. But, children who witness domestic violence also become emotionally damaged. Nearly 1/3 of all children who witness violence in the home demonstrate significant behavioral and emotional problems. Some of these problems include: speech problems, truancy, anxiety or depression, violence, social withdrawal, alcohol/drug abuse, poor academic performance, nervous disorders, and suicide. Children who grow up in a violent environment act violently and carry this violence into future relationships – they become abusers and victims themselves. This keeps the very destructive cycle of violence alive.
If you are a parent who is a victim of domestic violence, it is important to know that the violence is not your fault. And the impact of the violence on your children is not your fault. But you can help your children by getting safe yourself, and by talking to them, listening to them and recognizing that the violence affects them too.
Many parents think that their children don’t know when there is domestic violence in their home. Their children may be acting "normal," doing well in school, and playing with their friends. Or if the child is acting aggressively, parents may think that their child just has a temper problem. Almost all children know that the violence is going on in their home and are affected by it in some way. Every child responds differently. Children often have difficult and painful feelings, learn negative lessons, and act out in destructive ways as a result of the violence.
Children may feel powerless, confused, angry, guilty, worried, and scared. They may be physically hurting themselves during a violence incident. They may learn that violence is an appropriate way to deal with problems, or that abuse is normal. In response to the violence, they might fight with other children, have sleep problems or physical illness, or act very withdrawn and shy.
Many children are physically and emotionally harmed when they experience domestic violence. But most children are very resilient, and they can recover with help from their parents, and from other supportive, non-violent people in their lives. In order for children to fully recover, the violence in their families has to stop.
Safety Planning With Your Children
Unfortunately, children are often physically and emotionally endangered when domestic violence occurs. It is important to help them find ways to stay safe. Developing a safety plan with your kids can be complex and it needs to be age-appropriate.
When safety planning with kids, it is important to let them know that they are NOT responsible for the violence, and they CANNOT stop it. The first step in safety planning is talking to your kids about the violence.
Help Your Child Identify Warning Signs
Think about what are the warning signs (if any) that you have when your partner is about to become abusive. Talk with your child about these warning signs. They might include times when you and your partner are arguing, raising your voices, name-calling, or threatening. In talking to your child about his or her abusive parent, always stay focused on behaviors. You could say something like, "Sometimes your dad acts in ways that are scary, and when he does, we need to do things to try and stay safe."
What Kids Can Do to Stay Safe
- Go to their room, or another room that is away from the abuse
- Leave the house and go somewhere safe: a neighbor’s house, a relative’s house, or outside
- Stay out of the way; get as far away from the violence as possible
- Dial 911 if there is a phone that’s in a safe place
- Don’t ever try to physically stop the violence
**Remember to tell your child that he or she cannot control the abusive person’s behavior.**
This information is adapted, in part, from "Children Hurt Too: How You Can Help" printed by King County
Resources to Help You and Your Children:
Stepping Stones Program(253) 756-8079
Good Samaritan Support Group for Children(253) 697-8430
Family Help Line/ Parent Trust (bi-lingual in Spanish)(800) 932-4673
Gateways for Youth and Families(253) 983-7483
Lakewood Family Support Center(253) 284-9060
Parkland Family Support Center(253) 798-6557