Step 2: Connect
This program will provide you with examples of ways you can use basic tools and messages to make a difference for children and teens experiencing violence in their homes.
Overall, it’s important to let relationships happen naturally.
Forcing children or teens to talk about their experiences or becoming hyper-vigilant in identifying and helping those who are experiencing domestic violence may not be very supportive. Instead, relate to children and teens in a natural way by finding commonalities and respecting them as people.
Recognize that a child or teen and the situation may need more help than you can provide. Seek other support. You are not the only adult in this child’s life who may be able to provide support and assistance. So, try to engage other caring and knowledgeable adults in helping the child you wish to support, such as teachers, school counselors, coaches, religious leaders, extended family members, neighbors, community leaders, etc.
Give the parent who may be experiencing violence support. Supporting a parent goes a long way in promoting a child or teen’s well-being. It is vital that any caring adult respects the non-abusive parent’s authority and does not undermine or work around this parent. Instead, find ways to connect with and support this parent to help promote well-being in the child’s or teen’s life.
Brainstorm and rehearse with the child or teen ways they can stay safe. You can talk to them about a safe space they can go to when violence happens, help them identify safe adults to talk to about the violence, and brainstorm with them when it is appropriate to call 911. It is also important to discuss with children and teens what happens if the safety plan doesn’t work so that they do not feel guilty about not being able to stop the violence.
Get children and teens talking about their feelings and thoughts beyond their experience with violence. You don’t need to ask them directly about the violence that may be happening or their feelings around it, but general discussion about the ways they think and feel about life and other experiences. This helps them identify emotions they may be feeling and express other thoughts. You might use books or other shared experiences to get children and teens to talk about their thoughts and feelings.
We sometimes assume that we know a child’s or teen’s experience, but each experience is unique. If a child or teen talks to you about violence they are experiencing, allow them to share their own story without shaping or correcting their perception of the violence. It might be tempting to try to fix the situation or explain it to them, but these things might not be helpful. Instead, listen and acknowledge their story. Phrases such as “That must have been scary,” “I’m sorry this is happening to you,” or “What can I do to help you?” might be helpful when listening to a child or teen who is sharing their story.
Show them a different way of treating people. Children and teens learn about their world by watching what is happening around them and how people interact. Serving as an example of someone who is not violent, shows respect, and sets limits helps them learn about healthy relationships.
Help a child or teen gain some control in their life by giving them choices and respecting their voice. Children and teens who experience domestic violence often have little power or control over their lives and may be met with violence when they try to express their opinions. Showing them respect by allowing them to have some decision-making capacities and asking for and respecting their opinions gives them opportunities to have some power and control in some areas of their lives.
Know and understand what the legal requirements are in your state for reporting suspected child maltreatment. In most states, you are NOT required to report exposure to domestic violence to Child Protection Services. However, in some states, you may be required to make a report if you suspect a young person is being abused. More information on state requirements of mandated reporting can be found here.
Explain to children and teens that their life does not need to be defined by the violence they are experiencing. Help them understand other ways of living and that many children who experience domestic violence grow up to live very healthy and happy lives. You may say to them, “I am sorry this is happening to you. You are not responsible for any of the violence. I want you to know that this doesn’t define you. You get to choose your path in life.”