By Jenn Rockefeller
One of the hardest things as a parent is knowing your child endured something painful. If you watched it happen, it’s that much more excruciating. What if that something was domestic violence? How do you help your child heal after something like that?
Whether your child witnessed domestic violence or experienced it first-hand, it will be a long road to helping your child heal.
The road to healing
As parents, we want to do what it takes to take away our child’s pain. We hug them, kiss them, and tell them that they are safe. But healing from domestic violence is a tough road to tackle. Children process things much differently than adults. Many adults think that because they are not in the same room as the child, the child doesn’t know what’s going on. Children are very astute – they may hear things and pick up on vibes that we adults don’t realize they are picking up. It is for these reasons that children need special care and tenderness when healing from trauma like domestic violence.
Below are some ways you can help your child heal, whether they witnessed it or experienced it first-hand.
- Listen to them – Above all, children want to feel like they are being heard. If they feel comfortable, let them talk it out with you.
- Let them lead – As you are sitting there listening, let them lead the conversation. Let the conversation go where it needs to. Let them ask questions, express their emotions or fears and allow them to vent how they need to.
- Be together – Sometimes, children don’t want to broach the subject of what they witnessed or experienced at all. In this case, just being together with them can give them the unspoken sense of safety that they need. Sometimes, they just need to be with you.
- Cultivate the things they love – Encourage them to nourish the things they love to do, whether that is art, writing, sports or other activity. Let them build up their confidence and realize their own unique qualities.
- Friendships – Having friends is vital to a child’s growth. During a time of stress or trauma, those friendships can bring a sense of normalcy and safety. Encourage your child to nourish their friendships. Let them talk about their friends and spend time with them.
- Be honest – If your children ask you any questions, be honest with them. Answer them on an age-appropriate level. This will help the child build trust and will let them know that they can come to you any time they need to talk.
- Validate – Children need to know that their feelings and emotions count and that they matter. Let them know that it’s okay to feel angry, scared, etc.
What else can parents do?
Aside from the above, you’ll also want to ensure your child is receiving additional support via the way of therapy. You can check the following resources to find a child therapist in your area.
- Child or Adolescent Therapist Finder – a search provided by Psychology Today
- Psychologist Locator – a service provided by the American Psychological Association
- Teen Counseling – an online search to locate services for your teen
- Find a Child Therapist – a service provided by Good Therapy
How to help them process
Children process things differently than adults. By their very nature, children can be very inquisitive. They may ask questions. They may sit and ponder a situation to sort it out in their minds. They may want to write it out in a diary or journal. Encourage them to sort things out the way they need to in order to understand.
How to teach about healthy relationships
The best way to teach your child about healthy relationships is to model healthy behaviors when you are with them. They need to see these healthy behaviors modeled for them daily. This past BTSADV article explains how modeling healthy behaviors for children is vital to them learning what healthy relationships look like.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org or chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777.