When we hear of domestic violence, we tend to believe that it’s about spouses or adults.
That’s at least the most spoken of in our society. Little do we consider that children at home could be also direct victims of abuse and/or violence.
Any form of abuse towards kids at home is domestic violence. They are most vulnerable and can rarely have a way out, let alone understanding why those who are meant to love them and protect them are hurting them.
It can have a toll on their mental, physical, and psychological health. them. It can severely affect their present and their future.
Protecting children in our society from harm is crucial. It’s everyone’s responsibility. This is how you can do your part:
#1 Understand what domestic violence is
Domestic violence is physical abuse, harassment, sexual abuse, verbal insults, threats, mind games, humiliation, excessive criticism, implementing fear, intimidation, or interference with personal liberty by a certain perpetrator.
A child may be experiencing one or several kinds of abuse:
Physical abuse: any action that results in physical pain and injury, marks or scars
Sexual abuse: sexual interaction with and overpowering of a minor
Emotional abuse: any type of emotional maltreatment:
- humiliating or constantly criticizing a child, threatening, and shouting at a child,
- making the child the subject of jokes, or using sarcasm to hurt a child,
- blaming and scapegoating,
- not recognizing a child’s own individuality, pushing a child too hard or not,
- persistently ignoring them, being absent,
- never saying anything kind, expressing positive feelings or congratulating a child on successes,
- never showing any emotions in interactions with a child, also known as emotional neglect.
- Similarly, children who witness domestic violence are victims of emotional abuse. Children who have been emotionally abused may face severe and long-term psychological consequences.
- Demeaning the child, caregiver-inflicted bullying, terrorizing, coercive control, severe insults, debasement, threats,
- overwhelming demands, shunning and/or isolation,
- manipulating a child,
- making the child do degrading acts
- calling the child degrading names,
- making the child feel unwanted.
Neglect: when a child isn’t being taken care of properly and provided with the basics: food, housing, clothes, affection, medical care, supervision, emotional support, attention…
Oppression: when a child is being excessively controlled in every aspect of life. That also includes being used to infuse fear in the abused parent as a means to control the spouse.
Studies advance that children are 15 times more likely to be abused and the abuse can result in death.
A child who is being abused will be exposed to one or more of the following:
- being in isolation,
- sexual abuse, rape, molestation…
- any or every kind of physical abuse, like punching, kicking, hitting with an object,
- being threatened of harm or death, or of harming or killing a parent or the kid’s pet, etc.
- indirectly being exposed to violence, like hearing or seeing a parent getting abused, seeing a parent’s injuries or distress after they’ve been abused, or noticing broken furniture.
- being harmed accidentally or by proximity while witnessing violence against a parent or a family member at home.
#2 Know who you are dealing with
You are dealing with a traumatized child. Even if the child you’re trying to help isn’t being physically abused, arguments and yelling can be just as damaging.
A child who’s being exposed to domestic violence will be very anxious, depressed, moody, fearful, sometimes suicidal, difficult to interact with, and have challenging behavior.
Try to look at the situation through the child’s eyes. The child may also think that violence is the correct way of handling things.
This child is lacking safety and security, and this will affect his/her behavior, development, and mental health.
#3 Be up for the challenge
It will be very hard and challenging to talk to a child about the domestic violence they’re experiencing. They won’t have the words to describe and express what they are going through. They don’t even understand it or realize that it’s wrong.
They may be also feeling afraid, ashamed or guilty about the situation.
However, if a child opens up to you talk to you, you will have to listen to them and take what they say very, very seriously; let them know that you take them seriously.
Make sure they know that telling someone about domestic violence was the right thing to do. Also, the right things to say are: “This is not okay”, “this is not your fault”, and “you are going to get help”.
Assure them that you will do something about it, and don’t promise them that you will keep what they’ve told you a secret.
Explain that you have to do something about it, and then do something about it. However, never confront the abuser personally.
Let the child know that they can talk to you about their feelings and the situation. If they are having difficulties expressing themselves or describing what they are going through, encourage them to draw pictures or keep a diary.
#4 Notice the signs
A child who is exposed to domestic violence will show signs of childhood trauma: withdrawal, clinging, anger, indifference, fear, etc.
Children who witness or experience violence in their homes will have nightmares, anxiety attacks, and trouble concentrating. They will act out against friends or siblings (aggressive behaviors and clingy behavior). They will be depressed.
They will suffer from eating and sleeping disorders, learning disabilities, poor academic performance, difficulty interacting with others, excessive crying (usually for children under five), feelings of guilt, illness/fatigue, reduced physical growth, changes in mood, fear of conflict, suicidal thoughts, etc.
Children who experience domestic abuse may feel on constant alert; this will result in behaviors such as bed-wetting, unexplained illness, running away from home, constant worrying (usually about family members’ safety), and the likes.
Teenagers will be drawn to alcohol and drugs.
#5 Take action
If a child is in immediate danger, contact the police; this should always be your first step.
If you already went through the previous stages and know that a child is in a violent environment at home, you should call one of the hotlines that respond to cases of domestic violence: Kafa, Abaad, Himaya, etc. When a child is involved, it is your duty to report the abuse.
If you and your kids are in a violent environment, you can take the following steps to protect your children:
- Create a code phrase: you and your children can agree on a code phrase. This phrase will let the kids know that they should go to another room or to a neighbor’s house for a while or that they should call the police. This phrase could be: “We have a big problem right now, go play somewhere else.” Big Problem will be the code to get help or leave.
- If you are seeking help or planning an escape, don’t keep your children in the house. Ask a trusted friend or family member to watch them instead.
- If your partner is an abuser and you are getting a divorce, fight for custody.
You should work on protecting yourself first, in order for your children to be safe from your partner’s abuse.
#6 Start at your own home
Develop a healthy family relationship and healthy ways to interact with each other within your own home and with your kids.
Co-parent positively, give your children a voice, and maintain a healthy, positive, and peaceful environment at home, and high-quality parenting.
Illinois Department of Children & Family Services DCFS – Protecting Children from Domestic Violence
NSPCC Learning – Protecting children from domestic abuse
The People’s Law Library of Maryland – Protecting children from domestic violence
NSPC – What is Child Abuse; Every childhood is worth fighting for.