More than 15 million children annually witness domestic violence. Children can be exposed to family violence in different ways and to varied degrees. Even if children do not directly witness the violence, they can be indirectly impacted. Exposure to intimate partner violence can have lasting effects on children and youth. Children exposed to family violence often face life-long negative consequences, including psychological and physical health impairments.
Not all young people are affected by family violence in the same way. Many children can appear resilient, succeeding in their home and school environments with little discernible difficulty. The ways in which children and teens process and understand exposure to violence can be directly impacted by various risk and protective factors among the child, family and their community.
Children are often impacted differently by exposure to domestic violence based on a host of varied factors. Younger children may be more negatively impacted than older children, as they may have difficulty understanding what is happening, or regulating their own emotions. Additionally, children exposed to chronic or frequent violence may experience greater difficulty than children exposed to lesser levels or more infrequent violence.
Research indicates the single most critical protective factor for how children respond to exposure to domestic violence is the presence of at least one supportive adult in their life. Children without the support of nurturing adults are more negatively affected by their exposure to domestic violence. In some cases, this supportive adult can be a parent. However, other adults can play this role as well. A grandparent, teacher, coach, neighbor, therapist, or other consistent role model can all be significant factors in decreasing the impact of exposure to domestic violence on children.
Futures without Violence, a health and social justice nonprofit aimed to heal those traumatized by violence and create healthy and violence free communities recently distributed the following supportive resource to provide caregivers with simple and effective ways to connect with and support children.
The Magic of Everyday Gestures: 8 ways caregivers can support children healing from trauma.
- Play with your child and enter their world. Find activities that you can do together, like reading stories, playing video games, playing pretend, drawing, or playing sports.
- Listen to your child to help them feel seen, heard and valued. Show them you are listening by bending down to their level, making eye contact, and putting down your phone.
- Be your child’s cheerleader. Tell your child what you love about them. Inspire your child to discover activities that interest them, like sports, art, music, or theater.
- Comfort your child when they feel scared or overwhelmed, and practice techniques such as taking deep breaths and counting to ten. Help your child find other people and places that help them feel safe and supported.
- Talk to your child about their feelings. Help them to be able to label their emotions by using a feelings chart, and model healthy ways to express feelings. Ask your child about events from their day and how they made them feel.
- Create calm and predictable environments. Help your child know what to expect whenever possibly by creating habits and routines. Ask yourself, what rituals would work for my family each day to make it more predictable?
- Set clear rules and expectations about your child’s behavior and use positive reinforcement whenever possible. Clear rules might include “no name calling” and how often they can watch TV. Reward your child’s efforts to follow family rules.
- Create a network of support for you and your child, and be a support for other parents. At some point, we all need to ask for help. Whether your helping someone else or needing it yourself, it’s good to know what health, counseling, and recreation resources are part of your community.
- Osofsky, J. D. (1999). The impact of violence on children. The Future of Children: Domestic Violence and Children, 9 (3), 38.