What you can do if your child has witnessed abuse...
REAFFIRM your unconditional love for your
child. A big fear is that their behavior will cause you to
leave or divorce them. Let them know that you will always
love them no matter how bad their behavior is
ALLOW your child to express a range of feelings.
When parents separate, children may feel sad, angry, shamed,
guilty, afraid, confused, relieved or worried about who will
take care of them, or relieved. These are all natural reactions
you can expect from your child.
REASSURE them that you, as a family, will
manage all the changes. It may take time, but you will all
do okay and you will always look after them.
HELP them understand that your family is
not the only family to have had this experience, and that
other families have handled this situation successfully. You
can mention that these are counsellors who work with children
who have witnessed abuse.
ENCOURAGE them to talk about what they saw.
It may be hard to hear what they have to say, but everyone
needs the chance to express their feelings-especially feelings
of anger, hurt, pain or fear.
ALLOW your child time to confide these feelings
and accept that they may confide these feelings to other adults
or friends. This doesn't mean that they don't trust you: sometimes
it is easier to confide in someone not directly involved in
REASSURE them that they are not responsible
for the abuse. Often children feel that their behavior caused
the fighting and/or separation, and they need to be told that
it is an adult problem and they did not cause it.
REASSURE your child that you don't expect
them to look after you because they may feel responsible for
keeping you or their siblings safe. The child's job is to
keep him/herself safe, so make sure you go through safety
plans. Give them the skills to phone 911, brainstorm a list
of people they can go to if they need help, and safe places
in the home.
ENCOURAGE your child to just be a child
and not act as a surrogate partner. Give them permission to
be a child. Develop a support system for yourself independent
of your children. You deserve to be able to confide your feelings
REMEMBER that while your child's anger may
be directed at you -it is often about other things. Sometimes
the anger has been brewing for a long while and the child
now feels safe enough to let it out.
REDEFINE the word "family". Often
abuse sufferers feel guilty and blame themselves for the change
in circumstance and try to overcompensate. A spotless house
won't create a perfect family. Nor will new toys or lessons.
Create a home where your emotional needs and those of your
children are nurtured.
CREATE a discipline method that is respectful
and leaves everyone's dignity intact. Often, abuse sufferers
will associate control with the abuse they experienced by
their partners and need to re-learn effective parenting.
REMEMBER your child is not the abuser. Do
not tell them that they are "just like" the abuser,
especially when they are having trouble controlling their
anger. Their relationship with you is different, the power
dynamics are different.
MENTION to your child's teacher or daycare
staff that there has been a change in your family. It helps
that your child will be understood and supported by other
adults. If there is a change in your child's behavior, they
will then be better able to help your child.
Children can respond differently to stressful situations
and not all children develop problematic coping styles. A
number of factors will contribute to their reactions such
as the child's own ability to handle stressful situations
and the support system available to the child and family.
-Excerpted with permission from a Path Counselling Centre
publication. The Path Counselling Centre provides Children
Who Witness Abuse counselling to children aged 4 through 18,
and programs for women who are survivors of relationship abuse.
Services are offered free of charge to women and children
living in the Tri-City area. For more information, call 420-2002.