Children can be affected by seeing, hearing and being around violence, and they can also be the direct victims of abuse. Children are almost always aware of the abuse occurring in their family. Even when parents don’t fight in front of them, children can often hear what is being said, see damage to property, sense the distress of their mothers the next day or become hyper aware of the abusive parent’s mood.
Domestic violence can impact on children in many ways and can include lowered self esteem and confidence, quicker flight or fright responses or appearing anxious or vigilant. Children may take on the roles of adult or older child such as ‘parenting’ younger siblings or trying to protect others from abuse. Some children may be influenced to take on the abusive parent’s views such as believing their mother is weak or caused the abuse.
The parent on the receiving end of abuse can find their own parenting impacted; due to stress, exhaustion and emotional fatigue, their partner criticising their parenting or blaming them for separation. Some find themselves having to enforce harsher rules than they would choose for their children.
Women living in abusive relationships often take actions to protect their children from abuse and lessen the impact on them. If you are a parent in an abusive relationship it is important while you seek support to be kind to yourself. Although parenting through abuse is difficult remember all the ways you are a great parent and that we are here to help.
If your children are in immediate danger or the risk of injury is high it is important to seek help and a safe space as quickly as possible, although many families live with some level of abuse for a long time. If you are still deciding how to go forward or if your children have on-going unsupervised visitation with the other parent, it is important to maximise these protective factors.
Some common protective factors are:
- Giving children a chance to debrief: Even if you are staying in your relationship when there has been violence or an incident give children a chance to share their feelings, affirm for them abuse is not ok, even when it is happening between their parents.
- A safe place within walking distance: Get to know a neighbour so your children have other places they can get to and feel safe.
- Their natural qualities and abilities: Give children a chance to explore their gifts and give them lots of praise and encouragement.
- One loving and nurturing relationship: Studies show having one loving, emotionally available caregiver is an important protective factor.
- Support your children’s relationships with safe family/whanau members who can provide positive loving attention.
- Have someone you can debrief with (even the 0800REFUGE crisis line), so children aren’t exposed to adult issues because you need someone to talk to about the situation.
- Keep routines as much as you can: You may not be able to have kids in the routine you would like but even having little routines like sitting down together after school, songs or stories at bedtime, having time together when children return from visitation, can help children feel secure, gives them a chance to talk and provides some predictability to their lives.
Talking to children about abuse and important messages for children:
- ‘It is not a child’s responsibility to keep a mother safe.’
- ‘Abuse is not ok.’
- ‘I will do everything in my power to keep you safe.’
- ‘When adults fight, it is an adult problem and adults need to fix it.’