Domestic violence is a serious and important topic for children of any age to understand, especially if the children have witnessed it in their own home. While many adults shy away from the topic because it is so mature in nature, it is imperative that children who have been exposed to domestic violence are given the chance to heal. No child, age or circumstance, needs to be burdened with this for his or her entire life. This weight can be lifted by giving children a reliable, positive presence in their life whether it is briefly or for an extended period of time.
Children 4 to 7 Years Old
Domestic violence can be particularly confusing for young children, including those who have been subject to repeated incidences or a single act. Children of this age may react by having severe separation anxiety, withdrawal or aggression. However, children can also be resilient if given the opportunity. Communication is key, both in what you say and how you listen. It‘s important that the children feel safe and that you convey that what happened or is currently happening is not okay and is also not their fault. If the child wants to talk, then listen, but also respect if he or she prefers to speak at a later time. Allow children to ask questions until they feel comfortable talking to you. Once that barrier is lowered, you can ask the children what they think and repeat that whatever they have to say is important.
Pre-Teens 8 to 12 Years Old
Once children enter elementary school, the side effects of domestic violence often become apparent. They may avoid school completely, have real difficulty focusing on subject matters or complain of constant physical ailments to escape the classroom. To help children get through domestic violence at this stage in their life it’s important that they are treated with respect and honesty. When working through issues with children who have witnessed domestic violence in their home they need to feel safe and know that there will be no judgment or embarrassment. Children of this age can be self-conscious, so it’s important to stress that what they have to say is valid and significant. Be sure to not pressure them to think or feel a certain way, but rather give them an outlet to express their feelings and search for a way to cope.
Teens 13 to 17 Years Old
Teens can often feel that they are responsible for the violence occurring at home. It’s important that they do not feel guilty or at fault and this can be done through constant affirmations. You can remind them time and again that there is nothing they could have done to prevent it and it is not their responsibility to change it. Other teens may feel that they did something to deserve punishment and that the domestic violence is their penance. It’s imperative that they understand that they don’t deserve to have this abuse in their family. Above all, whatever they are feeling, you must listen actively and validate their feelings.
Talk, Listen, Heal
Whatever the age of the victim or witness, domestic violence should not be ignored. Whether the child has experienced it, witnessed it, or knows someone who has gone through it, talking and listening is the best way to heal and prevent this vicious cycle. Create a safe environment where the children or teenagers can speak their minds free of judgment and where they know their voice will be heard. This safe place of open communication will allow them to heal and flourish.