Living with Domestic Abuse can be difficult for children. The effects of living with Domestic Abuse are different for every child, but there are ways of managing this and supporting your child. Talking to your child and giving them information can be a great help to your child.
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Effects of living with Domestic Abuse
Children will have different experiences of living with Domestic Abuse depending on several things including their age, gender and if they have siblings or not.
Children have lots of ways of showing us that they are having a difficult time. Often they don’t have the words or understanding of how they are feeling to talk to us about this and so they can show us in different ways which can include:
Emotional Problems: crying, anxiety and sadness, confusion, anger (which can be directed toward either parent or other children), depression, nightmares, fears and phobias.
In younger children and babies eating and sleeping disruptions are common. They can also become very clingy and reluctant to let you out of their sight.
Behavioural Problems: aggression, becoming troublesome at home or at school, withdrawing into, or isolating, themselves, regressive behaviour -acting younger than they are, (such as baby-talk, wanting bottles or dummies), not doing as well at school, finding it hard to concentrate, Trying to act like the mammy or daddy of the house either by minding everybody or bossing everybody, and Not listening to you.
Physical Problems: bed-wetting, nervous ticks, headaches or stomach aches, nausea or vomiting, becoming very fussy with food or eating all the time, not sleeping well or afraid to sleep alone.
When children need reassurance they don’t know how to ask for this so instead they can become very demanding of your time and attention, they might find getting into trouble gets your attention and will do this a lot more just get a reaction from you.
Managing this behaviour
Children who are unsure about what is happening need your reassurance, talk to them and make sure they know the abuse is not their fault, sometimes children blame themselves when they don’t understand what is happening.
The key in managing this behaviour is to separate the child from the behaviour, if your child is hitting their sister they need to know that you still love them and like them but you don’t like the hitting.
Instead of saying “Stop being bold, hitting is bold” saying something like “I can see you are angry but hitting is not ok, show me why you are angry?” shows the child you still like them and are worried about them but also tells them that hitting is not ok. You could follow this up with something like “Nobody likes to get hurt” instead of “It’s not nice to hurt your sister.” Staff in Waterside House can help and support you with this.
You are not a bad parent for setting limits and boundaries with your child “Boundaries don’t keep other people out, they fence you in” It is boundaries that help a child feel secure; they know there is an unbendable thing which will keep them safe. It’s the parent’s job to hold this boundary by setting and keeping limits and it’s the child’s job to test the parent! Often parents who parent though Domestic Abuse feel that the children have been through enough and deserve a treat, or that they don’t deserve two mean parents. It is important you know that by enforcing rules you are not being mean you are being a good parent. What your child needs most alongside your love is to feel safe and secure.
Talking to your child
When talking to your child it is important to use language they understand, when describing what is happening at home you could use phrases like “When the fighting/ shouting starts” or “When Mummy and Daddy aren’t getting along/ being friends” depending on the age of the child.
Try to give your child as much information as you can. If you are coming into refuge to stay, you can explain you are going to stay in a big house with other people for a little while until you find a new house for you and your child to live in. Tell them Daddy won’t be there and he won’t be allowed in the big house, and that you have decided that only you and your child will be living in your new house so that there won’t be any more big fights or feeling scared. You can also say at this point that your child will still be able to see Daddy (if this is true for your situation) but that you just won’t all live in the same house any more. Sometimes children might not be able to see Daddy for a little while until things settle and that’s ok to say to children too. Child Care Workers in the refuge will help you think about what to say to your children.
Remember it is better to tell them what you know about what is going to happen, even if it isn’t much, then not to say anything to them.
Supports for you and your child
Your local Social Work Department may be able to support you if you are concerned about your own experiences or those of your child. Waterside House operates under the Children First Guidance and as such if it is brought to our attention that a child has been, or will be, harmed we are duty bound to pass on this information to the local Social Work Department who can help you in keeping yourself and your child safe. We will discuss this with you if it is necessary and support you through the process.
There may be a Resource Centre or Family Support team working in your area.
The Barnardos website www.barnardos.ie has links to booklets which can help in areas where parents commonly find difficulties which you may find beneficial.
Other informal supports may be available in your community such as Mother and Toddler Groups where you can build friendships and socialise. Some local organisations may be running parenting groups where you can meet other parents in your area and discuss your parenting experiences, staff at Waterside House can help you in accessing these services through your outreach appointments or during your stay.
Your family and friends could be a support for you, while it may feel difficult to talk to them now, perhaps down the line this is something you may consider.