During National Teachers Day and Teachers Appreciation Week, we honor the transformative role of educators and the power of teaching to help others overcome Childhood Domestic Violence (CDV), including one teacher who has herself, triumphed over it.

One person can change the lives of those going through CDV

Last month we featured a guest blogger who has learned what CDV is and how it impacted her into adulthood. Her volatile home life shaped her childhood and adult life. There are LIES that children believe while growing up with domestic violence and it can take a lifetime to discover the corresponding TRUTHS. Janani found hope through reading and educating herself, and only discovered as an adult decades after her childhood, how to unlearn what was learned growing up with CDV. 

She realized that there were undiscovered gifts from experiencing CDV. She gained perspective that resilience could be innate, many that grow up realize there is a drive propelling them forward, even if not one made by choice. Janani says, “if I could thrive in an environment that would’ve broken many, then there is nothing in this world I cannot do if I decide I want to.”

As a child and young adult, Janani consumed herself with education, as a means of escaping the domestic violence she grew up with. As an adult, after being out on her own, she has moved forward with hope, purpose and knowledge. She continues to improve her own life, as well as the lives of others.

The more I know, the sooner I can get out of here

Children don’t know what CDV is. They do not know the negative impacts that can be lifelong on their mind and body. They do know their home life is not the norm. Many of these children will take different paths to protect themselves instinctively. For many children of domestic violence, the things that bother other kids seem silly and unimportant. 

As a child, I never gave much thought to the detrimental impacts of growing up in a DV environment. I knew it wasn’t normal or right, but it drove me to focus on my education and learn as many skills as I could…I figured, the more I know, the sooner I learn how to do all the things adults needed to do, the sooner I’d be able to get out of here and be free from this.

This strategy worked well. I excelled in everything I attempted as a child, educationally and in sports. I was never the fittest or fastest, but my desire to get out of the environment I was in created a persistence and focus that my peers could not compete with. 

CDV can impair the way children view friendships and relationships

I could never understand how or why my peers had time or were bothered to be so upset by arguments with their friends or by upset about a boy not liking them back. Whilst I got on well with them at school, or in an environment when we were around each other, I had no interest in meeting with them externally. 

I liked them, but could not understand how people had time for each other outside of school – how could they leave their home willingly and not want to protect their mum? Did they not want to intervene when violence erupts in the house? 

For me, I always wanted to be close to my mother, to be there when my dad came home and inevitably started his outbursts of rage. I knew that my mum was timid, she did not know how to fight back. I could never do much, but at least I could be there to care for her after the beatings were over. 

My birth, from what I was told by some family, was the reason violence existed in our home

Hence, I never really developed proper friendships in my youth. I declined every birthday party invite, and especially hated it when peers who were trying to be my friend would celebrate my birthday at school. It reminded me of the fact that my birth is a big part of why my mother gets beaten every day. 

My father never wanted a daughter – he comes from a background where women are viewed as objects, not worthy of respect and simply a burden. He wanted my mum to have an abortion, which she didn’t as she had always wanted a girl (I have two older brothers). From what I’ve been told, this was the beginning of the abuse in the house. 

Guilt and Shame are just two of the Truths and Lies you may face because of CDV

I had always felt guilty about existing. One of my brothers used to tell me I was a mistake; he had a resentment towards me I didn’t really understand. I didn’t know him, he didn’t know me, so why would there be so much hate? But as I got a little older, I realized it was because he was old enough to have enjoyed my dad while he was “normal” and “fun”. 

The eldest brother, in my view anyway, linked my dad’s anger and treatment of the family to me. It felt to me, like he felt I took that all away from him. I could be entirely wrong on this, but this is certainly what it felt like to the child version of me. 

All of this meant that I always felt guilty about the things happening to my family members. It meant that I never felt a right to do the things I wanted to do and was always focused on doing things that would make my mum happy. After all, she wouldn’t be suffering if I wasn’t born right? 

Going to school daily was not an option

While I was out of the house, my mother got beaten. So, began a pattern of going to school, calling mum to tell her I’m sick so she will come and pick me up. Just to get her out of the house so she doesn’t get beaten. This happened almost every day for the first three years of primary school (I attended the first full week of Year 1 before deciding it wasn’t worth it because each day, I went home to a battered mother). 

I was very fortunate that my mother was able to educate me at home. She was an intelligent woman, despite the things my father used to say about her, she was much more intelligent than him. She just didn’t have a university degree – which in his eyes meant she was an idiot and a waste of space. 

Another LIE of CDV for children is not feeling worthy

I was lucky. My brother also realized at a very young age that it was important for his little sister to be educated. He too had listened to the insults my dad would yell at my mum as he beat her “you’re an uneducated idiot”, “you’re stupid” etc. Every day he came from school (beginning from Kindy) he would teach me every single thing he learned that day. We had a little chalkboard, and off he went.

 Every. Single. Day. As we got older into primary school, he taught me everything before he would do his own homework. It didn’t matter if he had a test or exam the next day, he taught me first. I didn’t ever feel worthy of this kindness. My existence stole his peace, and yet he was so kind to me. Why? 

All this time, we were always told not to speak about anything that happened in the house because people will think we are weird, that we would not be able to get jobs if people knew this happened in our house, that no one will talk to us, it would be shameful for us. We were trained to smile and carry on like we had the perfect home. 

My educational achievements fostered resentment, one more LIE of CDV

After the guilt came resentment – intense anger felt when people used to comment on how well I was doing academically, and how my dad must be so proud and must have worked so hard to help me achieve things. It made my blood boil. I hate the people who would make these comments, I hated him for going along with it and accepting compliments that he did not deserve at all. 

My achievements, well, to me they were not mine, they belonged to my mum and brother; and here he was, the one person who hinders our lives, is getting credit for it. I never liked my father, but always felt sorry for him as he was so unable to be happy. But now, I felt resentment for the first time as he time and time again would receive compliments and brag about my achievements to others as if he had any part in my positive development. 

Suddenly my dad decided to like me

I always knew, it wasn’t me he liked, it was the achievements, and the bragging rights – our culture is notorious for parents competing for whose child is better. And finally, he had a child that often came out on top. 

You would think this made me happy, but it didn’t. I was happy that it validated my mother’s and brother’s efforts, but it enraged me that I would have to sit and listen to my dad carry on as if he had anything to do with it. I hated him knowing anything I achieved, I would ask my mum not to tell him. 

We just celebrate being a step closer to getting away from all this. But my mother viewed sharing with my father as an opportunity to buy some peace in the house. If it put him in a good mood, people don’t get beaten. At this point, for the first time in my life, I started to dislike my mum.

I became a currency for peace from the beatings

I knew she loved me, she has given me a lot of opportunities, but I became someone she used to buy peace with my father. I was pushed to compete, to win, to achieve things I didn’t necessarily care about, just because whenever I won, she told my father, and it bought her peace for a few days. I became currency for her. I noticed the disappointment and disapproval if I came in 2nd. It wasn’t good enough for my dad to brag about, so it wasn’t worth anything to her, and it was very clear on her face. 

I momentarily disliked her, but in my heart I couldn’t. I didn’t like being treated like an object to trade but I understood her desperate position. 

The violence spread and my dad became the lesser of two evils

I did not enjoy being around my father, but I had to pretend I loved it. I had to pretend I loved doing the things he wanted to do. I didn’t. They were father-son things, things I’m sure my oldest brother would’ve loved to do with him instead. But, as far as my dad was concerned, the oldest was a “winner”. So, he had no interest. 

I also hated this; it made my oldest brother more resentful towards me. Whenever I tried to include him in things, my dad would just go on about how he’s not as good as me.  As his anger grew, he too turned into my father. I had found a way to mitigate my father’s violence, but in his absence, my brother had started to take over. He was just as intimidating, violent, and angry as his father. But this time, there was no strategy. There was no stopping him. He was too big, too angry and beyond responding to any positive interactions. Suddenly, my father became the lesser of two evils. 

Hopelessness, on top of all the other LIES of CDV, kicked in

Up until now, there was guilt, resentment, and loneliness. But once my brother turned into this beast, hopelessness kicked in. A feeling like if it wasn’t my father, it would always be someone else. We returned to walking on eggshells around the house, patching up my grandmother after she had been stabbed with pens and pencils after trying to care for the oldest. The cycle continued. He hurled the same insults at my mother – “you’re an uneducated waste of space”, “you’re useless”. 

This was a setback – would I be able to deal with all this all over again? Fortunately, he was much older and after a few years moved out. 

My adult years away from my turbulent and violent family home

I continued to do what I needed to do and in fact tick off everything on that list of goals I had set for myself. I had a peaceful house to live in. In a worldly sense, I had achieved more than I had ever hoped for. I was finally out. 

I asked my mother if she would like to move in with me, but she didn’t. Whilst my father had mellowed somewhat by this stage, there was still plenty of emotional abuse, and the odd moments of physical abuse. She had always said she stuck with my father so we could be educated and have job opportunities that were only possible because of him as she couldn’t afford to give us those things. I had accepted this reason for not leaving him for years. 

But now, we were all adults, making good incomes, stable finances. She still wouldn’t leave. I thought I was out – but no. I would receive daily phone calls about the horrible things he’s done or said to her. Then my father would call to complain about what she’s done to trigger him and try to justify himself. I was out physically, but still stuck in their mess. I was sad that money couldn’t buy me the peace and stability I had craved since birth. 

I was flying in my career but was emotionally wrecked –  lacking TRUST was a LIE of CDV I believed for decades

I remember going on a date with the loveliest man. He was kind and treated me with so much respect. He loved everything about me and just wanted to be around me for me. I remember feeling so incredibly uncomfortable and breaking it off with him. I just didn’t know how to react to someone who was that kind and respectful. 

Why was he so nice? What is he hiding? Would he just turn into a monster later? I preferred being with people whose flaws were out on display from the start. I just didn’t trust people who were nice. I didn’t believe that men could ever be nice. It would have to have been an act. Just like the act my father used to put on in public which lead everyone to believe he was a pious, loving, family man. I didn’t believe such men existed and, I just felt so incredibly uncomfortable being complimented or treated nicely. 

I have seen my friends enjoy positive relationships; I had seen their families exist happily with each other. But still, a part of me always wondered if they too are just acting like we did when people were around. 

CDV’s LIES don’t go away just because you leave your childhood home

Everything I had worked for, thinking that it was my ticket out of a dysfunctional life – it wasn’t enough. I kept finding myself in relationships with people like my father. I was comfortable with the familiarity of behaviors; I knew how to handle such people. 

Nice men? No. I didn’t trust them. I also just didn’t know how to act around them. They always wanted to share feelings and delve too deep. I couldn’t do this. I have never done this. How I feel is not to be shared, remember? People would look down on me if I expressed how I felt. It was all too uncomfortable. I felt trapped and finally understood why domestic violence is a cycle. 

Janani has since learned all about the way her brain was rewired as a child. She discovered what CDV is and learned everything she could about the truths and lies of CDV. She has helped change her perspective and her outlook on her mental and physical health. She has changed the way she handles her relationships, even that with her father, and she continues to unlearn what she has learned in her youth.

So, what was next for Janani with this newfound perspective? 

I had never realized this, but my anger about the way my mum (and hence my brothers and me) were treated because of her lack of education fueled a passion for educating others. Although I was an engineer, I always had a burning desire to teach. I wanted to help as many children from DV scenarios have tools to help them break the cycle. 

It drove me to become a teacher. I thrive with students who others label as unteachable, or not worth teaching. I do not have issues with the “difficult” kids because I know that there is so much more behind the scenes that drives their behavior. I know I make a difference to them – because they say so, or they have a parent or carer that says so. 

My childhood experience has also taught me that not all kids who do well academically have happy homes. I always make sure every child, no matter what, feels safe and cared for in my class. This has allowed me to contribute to their lives in a way that I don’t think I would have been able to without my DV background.

For this, I am grateful to have come from where I have. There is no more anger. Just a passion to do what I can to enable others to have the life they want.  

How Can Teachers Help Children Experiencing Domestic Violence?

Due to the amount of time children spend at school being a large portion of their lives, their teachers need to recognize the signs of domestic violence in the home and be aware of resources on how to help. To learn more about how CDV impairs learning for children, and impacts all areas of a child’s life going forward, check out this blog

Why Should Teachers Intervene?  

There are multiple factors as to why educators need to get involved in order to prevent or report domestic violence. Schools are made to help children learn, however, as aforementioned, trouble at home can impact children’s ability to learn and focus in the classroom. Another reason is that every state requires teachers to report, as they are considered mandated reporters. Professionally, teachers and other educators serve as role models for children and are figures of support, concern, and care. 

How Teachers can watch for signs and provide nurturing in a safe space

According to the Department of Justice, helping starts with awareness. Some signs to watch for include physical bruises or injuries, changes in behavior, and emotional signs such as tearfulness, anxiety, or being withdrawn.

The most important tip?

Providing a safe space for children to feel comfortable enough to share their experiences at home. It is important to be aware that this information may be presented in “bits and pieces” or even via art, such as drawings. Below are some further tips that can help teachers in assisting their young learners:

  1. Follow school procedures on reporting and provide referrals to a school counselor or school psychologist. Referrals to resources for the family can also be made if needed, such as contacting a social worker.
  2. Display a sense of caring and understanding in order to help the child feel comfortable and enable healing.
  3. Share relevant information with CPS to assist with their case. 
  4. Find ways to provide the child with consistency in the classroom, such as having their own desk to care for.   
  5. Overall, be sensitive to the child’s needs and possible adjustments needed during the process. Additional considerations may be needed if the child is removed from the home or if a court proceeding must be done.
  6. Provide adequate socializing activities to help decrease feelings of isolation.
  7. Provide activities that can help the child feel a sense of achievement.
  8. Be supportive of other children in the classroom, considering they may have heard about the incident and may have questions or feelings related to it.
  9. Acknowledging feelings in the classroom and enacting skills to moderate them.
  10. Using art and other creative skills to help the child heal.

Assisting children and families experiencing domestic violence is a community and school-wide effort. Larger-scale interventions can be implemented to help prevent future abuse, such as teaching children life skills, socialization, problem-solving, coping skills, and self-protection training.  Other ways that schools and districts can help are by providing their auditoriums for self-help groups, instilling public awareness programs, and providing faculty and staff training. 

Did you know, according to UNICEF, about one in seven children grow up living with domestic violence in their homes?

For some more tips on recognizing the signs that a child is growing up with domestic violence, take a look at this list of 8 major behaviors. Fortunately, research suggests that if these children have a caring adult in their lives, they are much more likely to be resilient against the negative effects of CDV.

And often, when there is no support system in place for a child, a teacher can be the hope and support for a child. A first simple step can be looking at this free program, called Change A Life, that gives tips, scenarios, videos and a sequence on how to learn about CDV and be there for a child of domestic violence.

Teachers can change the fate of cycles of violence one child at a time

After a lengthy and successful career as an engineer, Janani has taken on teaching. She wants to share her knowledge of what CDV is to help many children that are now facing it themselves. Considering that children often go to school to escape their turbulent homes, and spend so much time at school, teachers have great potential to aid these children.

This can be done, not only by educating, but by providing a safe environment, where hope and stability can be demonstrated to these children that may have neither once they leave the school grounds. Teachers can truly help decrease the cycle of violence, by supporting these children before they themselves perpetuate the next generation of perpetrator or victim. 

**Additional external sources and content provided by CDVA volunteer, Shirley Sanguino, Clinical Psychology M.A. Graduate Student, Pepperdine University