Domestic violence affects people around the globe. According to estimates, 15 million children in the U.S. live in homes where domestic violence is present. For South Asian families the statistics are unreported due to the taboo of talking about issues like domestic violence. Here are some tips and information on how to talk to your child about domestic violence.
1. Children witness abuse in mind, body, and spirit
Children are sponges and exposure to domestic violence can emotionally and physically take a toll on them. Even from a tender age, children who witness abuse physically react to the violence by bed wetting, thumb sucking, stuttering and even having night tremors. Older school-aged children may blame themselves for the abuse, while teens can mimic the abuse or engage in risky behaviors such as skipping school, take drugs, and alcohol abuse. All children may have long-term self-esteem issues.
Talk to your kids about being aware of the signs of domestic violence and how to get help when needed. If you’re living with domestic violence, provide your children with a contact list of resources and tell a trusted adult your children may contact them in times of trouble. Tell your children they are not at fault for the domestic violence happening in their homes. If your children are engaging in risky behaviors, connect them to therapy and find healthy ways to build their self-esteem such as enrolling them into self-defense lessons or skill-building courses.
Encourage your children to find healthy outlets to express themselves. Painting and writing can be therapeutic for children who are sometimes unable to express their emotions. If as a parent you are facing domestic violence, express your love and affection to your children. Instill strong self-esteem in your children. Confidence can help them build their lives once they are removed from the house and/or are able to seek help.
2. Children are vulnerable
Children are dependent on the care of their parents. Without the parents addressing and fixing the issues within the home, they are left at the wayside when it comes to reporting abuse or getting help. They fear the consequences of speaking rather than getting help. Children who may be older and understand the repercussions of informing relatives or authority figures can become traumatized by the idea of their parents divorcing, a mother or father being put into jail, or the children being placed into foster homes. These factors can cripple our children from seeking the proper help they deserve.
Tell your children it is okay to reach out for help to trusted adults, which may include family members, a teacher or a friend to inform them of the pain and turmoil within the home. Sometimes having a shoulder to lean on helps children cope until they can remove themselves from the situation.
3. Children are not responsible for household safety
In South Asian households, older children (especially girls) assist in raising or taking care of the younger siblings. In such cases, the older children may feel responsible for the safety and well-being of the younger siblings. It is the parent’s job to ensure safety and security. The shift of guilt and shame onto the children may lead to long-term mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Tell your children it is not their fault for the abuse they encounter.
Your children are not the parents of the siblings. They should not be made to feel that way, or that they are somehow responsible for their safety. Older siblings should not be given complete authority over the younger siblings (some children mimic the abusive behavior towards their siblings).
4. How the health of children is compromised
Children are more likely to have health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity as adults due to their exposure to domestic violence. In a 2014 TED Talk on the topic, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, discusses the Adverse Childhood Experiences study (ACE), which found that the 67 percent of the U.S. population who faced childhood traumas such as physical, emotional, sexual abuses, including domestic violence, had higher scores on the ACE test, which linked a higher likelihood of health complications for children in adulthood to the amount of exposure to abuse. These children are four times more likely to develop depression and 12 times more likely to commit suicide.
Adults should speak to their health care providers about any abuse in their homes to seek preventative measures for their children.
5. Fear of Separating Families
One of the common reasons women and men don’t leave homes of domestic violence is the fear of separating families. While in an ideal situation keeping a family together is important, the negative effects of living in an unhealthy family are not worth it. Speaking up, connecting to resources and going to counseling could be the first steps to living healthier lives.
Domestic violence is a prevalent issue and it’s important for parents to learn how to talk to your child about domestic violence. Hope these tips helped.