What you can say to your children:
If your children have witnessed the abuse or if your partner has been taken to jail, it is important to talk to your children about what is going on. Even young children need to hear your explanation and be reassured about everyone’s safety. Older children especially need help understanding the dynamics of what has happened.
Most children seek the same reassurances at first. You can start by talking about the things on this list:
- “It’s not your fault.” Nothing a child can do should trigger abuse, even if you were fighting about the children, the violence is not their fault. If your child called the police, it is very important that you explain that action in positive terms (mature, responsible, caring) and place the burden of the arrest on the abuser.
- “Mommy / Daddy loves you.” Don’t get too upset to state this, even if you think it’s obvious. The kids will be very frightened. They need to hear this.
- “I know this was scary.” Acknowledge that they may be frightened and tell them you are there to take care of them.
- “I know this is confusing.” Acknowledge their feelings and don’t be afraid to admit some of yours. It is normal to be scared and confused by violence.
- “We can figure this out.” You won’t have all the answers but you can agree to work together to figure it out.
After an arrest for domestic violence, some victims are very angry. It’s natural to express these feelings with emotional statements like, “I hope they keep him/her locked up forever.” However, if your children are concerned about your partner, especially if he or she is their parent, this kind of statement can frighten them.
You don’t have to make the children afraid of the police. Remind the children that police are there to keep people safe. One thing you could say is, “The police just want to tell Daddy/Mommy not to hurt Mommy/Daddy any more.” If you are filing a protective order, you may also be able to say you don’t want Daddy/Mommy in jail, you just want to tell him he shouldn’t hurt you anymore. If he ignores this warning and has to go to jail, it is his fault, not yours or your children’s.
It’s important to let the children know the facts. Unless a suspect has an unusual criminal history, he or she can bond out of jail in a matter of hours. If that is frightening to the children, be sure and tell them how you plan to be in a safe place by then. Include them in your basic safety plan.
Perhaps you have heard someone say this or perhaps you believe it, “just because he/she beats the partner doesn’t make him/her a bad parent.” A mountain of research says otherwise. There are numerous impacts of domestic violence on children and those children exposed to domestic violence:
- Children are three times more likely to repeat the violence they see.
- They are six times more likely to commit suicide.
- They are 50 times more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol.
- They are 74 times more likely to commit violent crimes against another.
Whether or not children are physically abused, violence in the home affects all family members. Children whose mothers/fathers are abused are denied the kind of home life that fosters healthy development. Most experts believe that children who are raised in abusive homes learn that violence is an effective way to resolve conflicts and problems.
A third of all children who see their mothers/fathers beaten develop emotional problems. Boys who see their fathers/mothers beat their mothers/fathers are ten times more likely to be abusive in their adult intimate relationships.
Because children have a natural tendency to identify with strength, they may ally themselves with the abuser and lose respect for their seemingly helpless mother. Abusers typically play into this by putting down the mother/father in front of the children and telling them that their mother/father is “crazy” or “stupid” and that they do not have to listen to them. Seeing their mother/father treated with enormous disrespect teaches children that they can disrespect people the way their parent disrespects people.
- What do I gain by staying in a violent home?
- What do my children gain by growing up in a violent home?
- What do I have to lose by leaving? What do the children have to lose by leaving?
- What price am I paying for “peace”? How long have I been paying it?
- Are my children paying the price? How will it affect them five years from now? (See section below on the impact on children)
- Is the price too high?
- Without change, what will I be like five years from now?
- What will I look like five years from now?
- Who can I talk to about my concerns?
- What do I want?
- What am I willing to do to get it?
- What do I need to stay safe and protect my children if I decide to leave?
All abuse can feel humiliating and degrading. It makes us feel as though we are somehow bad or inferior. We hide these feelings, even from ourselves, because they are so painful. Many people have remained alone and isolated in shame, believing there was something wrong with them. But by sharing loving support, we begin to name our abuse. If you do this, you will discover that you are not alone, you are not a bad person. You can begin to recognize what you have endured and know that you have survived. You are strong, you are of worth, and you can stand tall with your head held high.