How to Help Children Who Witness Family Violence (page 2)
Some children raised in violent homes learn to keep family secrets. They may learn how to use aggression and manipulation to get what they want. They may also feel that people who love you, hurt you. Children who witness violence often feel isolated, lonely, helpless, and suffer from high levels of anxiety and fear.
Some of the behaviors that are found in children who witness violence are:
- Sadness and depression
- Loss of appetite or change in eating patterns
- Sleep problems such as nightmares and restlessness
- Clinging to mother or siblings, separation anxiety
- Increased violent behavior such as hitting, kicking, fighting and bullying
- Complaining of aches and pains with no clear medical cause
- School problems such as refusing to go to school or a drop in grades
- Verbal abuse or talking back
- Temper tantrums
- Loss of skills learned at an earlier age, babyish behavior, regression
- Trouble concentrating
Behaviors specific to teenagers:
- During adolescence, teens start to develop meaningful relationships outside of the family circle. Based upon what they have seen and lived with, it may be the beginning of violence within their own dating relationships. Girls who live with violence in their home may allow their boyfriends to make threats or even be physically abusive.
- To get away from the violence in their families, some teenagers simply run away. This is their escape. It has been documented that family violence is a major reason for kids leaving home.
- Teens who witness family violence may become perpetrators themselves. That means they may begin to physically abuse their mothers, brothers, sisters, or girlfriends/boyfriends and may end up in the juvenile justice system for this or other crimes of violence. They are simply copying behavior that they have watched. They may think that in life you are either a perpetrator or a victim.
- Other teens take on more responsibility at home to keep the peace. They often assume the parenting role. They may protect younger brothers and sisters during violent outbreaks and put their lives on hold because they feel they must protect and take care of Mom.
If there is violence in your home:
- Let your children know that the violence is not their fault.
- Give them permission to talk about the abuse. Talking about feelings helps sort out what is going on.
- Help your children create a safety plan: a safe place to go when there is fighting, numbers they can call, and make sure they know it is not safe to get in between fighting adults.
- Recognize the mixed feelings they may have toward the other parent and that it is okay to love that parent, and hate what they do.
- Help your children identify feelings other than anger, and help them find a way to express those feelings, like through art, drawing, or music.
- Be as specific as you can about what is going to happen in everyday life. Children who live with abuse need information ahead of time about where they will be, and how long they will stay. If your child has a hard time separating from you, reassure him/her you will be safe and when you will be back.
- Work to create a stable, safe environment for your child. Establish routines, rules, and limits.
- You can get help from professionals on how to talk to your child about violence they may have witnessed.
- Get support yourself. It takes extra patience to cope with a child who is acting out.
- If you are being abused, get help. If your children are being abused, get help. If you are abusing your family, get help to stop.
The Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence can link you to the many services available throughout Rhode Island. Each agency provides emergency support to victims and their families. A 24-hour Victims of Crime Helpline is available at 1-800-494-8100 or you can visit the website for advice on how to get help www.stopdomesticviolence.info. The following agencies provide support for victims of abuse:
- Blackstone Valley Advocacy Center - 723-3057
- Day One - 421-4100
- Domestic Violence Resource Center of South County - 782-3990
- Elizabeth Buffum Chace Center -738-9700
- Sojourner House -658-4334
- Women's Center of Rhode Island - 861-2760
- Women's Resource Center of Newport & Bristol Counties 847-2533
Reference: The Child Witness to Violence Project, Boston Medical Center.
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