Step 3: Support
A child or teen experiencing domestic violence may look like any person you encounter. This person may be a straight ‘A’ student in your class, a bully at the bus stop, a quiet book worm, or a child running around your neighborhood. There is no one way to identify a young person experiencing domestic violence.
Click on each icon below to review all the different scenarios you might encounter before you move on to the questions.
You are at a family gathering. You see one of your nephews hit your sister and call her “a stupid bitch.” You gasp, but your sister has no reaction. Earlier in the day, you watched your nephews fighting with each other and calling each other “baby” and “fag.” When your youngest nephew started crying, your brother-in-law told him to “stop crying like a girl.” You know their father is abusive. Your sister has confided in you about some of the violence, but does not want to leave. She doesn’t want her sons to grow up without a father. She has a full-time job, but is still worried about not being able to meet the needs of her children. She has said to you before, “it doesn’t happen very often and it’s not that bad.” You respond:
Become a consistent person in the lives of your nephews. For example, you and your partner take an active role in the children’s lives by having them come to your house more often and offering to babysit. This gives you the opportunity to show children how other families work and treat each other.
Becoming an intentional, consistent supportive adult in the children’s lives by offering to babysit, visiting with them frequently, having them stay overnight, and role modeling positive relationships may increase coping skills in the child(ren) to cope better with their own situation and learn the right ways to interact with other people.
You respond to the children’s fighting by explaining to them that hitting and name-calling is not okay. You help them figure out other ways to handle their anger and frustration with each other. Talk to them about nice ways to say “stop” and listening when someone says stop.
The children may not know ways to handle conflict, so setting clear limits on behavior and teaching them non-violent ways to express themselves shows children positive ways to handle anger and frustration. This can help them learn healthy ways of managing conflict and improve their relationship skills.
Read a story book with a child that helps them talk about experiences and feelings. “The Invisible String” and “A Terrible Thing Happened” are two books on general support and helping children with traumatic experiences. With caution, books specifically on domestic violence can be used as well. They are listed in the reference section of this site.
Books allow children to see different stories and shared experiences. The books can also serve as a starting point for a deeper conversation to get children talking about their feelings and thoughts.
You can tell your nephews that even though they might be seeing their father do certain things they don’t have to act like he does. You can explain that they are very smart and can make different choices.
This gives them a different way to look at the behaviors they may have seen from the abusive parent and helps put them on a different path.
A child in your class has been acting out more and more. She talks out of turn, giggles uncontrollably, and argues with you about almost everything. You have a lot of contact with both parents about the student’s behavior and you notice tension between her parents, who are divorced. The mother has confided in you that her ex-husband was abusive in their marriage. At conferences, you discuss some of the difficulties the student is having in class. The father states (in front of the mother), “It’s her fault. She feeds the kids crap, so they are so sugared up they can’t even think straight. She’s the worst mother.” The father often blames the child’s behavior on the poor parenting of the mother. But the mother is actively involved in problem-solving behavior issues, volunteers in the classroom, etc. You:
Provide safe alternative activities for the student. If the student consistently argues with you, you may try to offer her acceptable choices. For example, if the child does not want to sit and read, you can offer her the choice of standing and reading instead.
Offering choices to the student may help in the development of a positive relationship the student can rely on. Sharing power provides children and teens with the ability to control some parts of their life. It also gives them a good example of respectful relationships.
Seek guidance from the school social worker to help find ways to support the child.
The school social worker may be able to provide guidance on family dynamics, resource referrals, and additional support to the child that you may not. The school social worker may also be able to help the child create a safety plan when violence occurs in the home.
Offer confidential support to the mother that reinforces her positive approach to problem-solving and parenting of the child. For example, you may say, “You are doing a great job with your daughter. I appreciate how hard you are working to help your child succeed in school. Is there anything I can do on this side to help?”
Positive reinforcement of the mother helps validate the mother’s experiences, provides opportunities for you to share resources, and gives the mother a safe space to share concerns, if needed. It is important to keep information between the parents confidential. Passing any information between the mother and the father may place the child at risk.
Offer positive comments about the things she excels at and encourage the child to do more of these things. You may say, “You know, you are so smart and you’re great at math! Would you like to help some of your classmates with those math problems? I bet one day you will be a great engineer, or architect, or maybe a math teacher like me. Keep up the great work!”
Offering positive comments and praise to children and teens can help build self-esteem.
You are the leader of a local youth group for 13-14 year old girls. Many of the members of your group seem to have difficulty in school and you try to help them when you can, but one of the members is a straight A student who also excels in sports, is active in groups and school, and is always very neatly dressed. She often helps by informally giving the other troop members a hand with their homework. Recently, you reviewed a story she wrote for a writing competition and it described how a character’s partner won’t let her go out with certain friends anymore and the partner sometimes yells at the character. It also said that the character cuts herself and engages in other self-harming behaviors. You:
Talk to the group member about your concerns about the story. Explain your concerns about the unhealthy relationship in the story and ask her about the inspiration for it. If it seems okay, you may directly ask the troop member if she has experienced or witnessed this type of behavior with people in her life.
Merely asking questions about the story may help the teen realize that this type of relationship is not normal and that you care. It provides you with an opportunity to express concern about the behaviors in the story and also gives the member an opportunity to open up and share information, if she wants or needs to.
Conduct a troop activity focused on healthy relationships, including role-play where the troop members can practice skills. You can also have a discussion about safety in relationships and brainstorm ways people can get help if they are in an unhealthy relationship.
A group activity gives all members an opportunity to learn about healthy relationships. It gives the entire troop resources on healthy relationships and teen dating violence. Finally, it reinforces that you are a safe and understanding adult that can be trusted and wants to help.
Talk to the group member about healthy boundaries and discussing ways to avoid taking on too much, ways to say “no,” and the pressures to be perfect. Brainstorm with the student ways to set healthy limits and respect their voice.
The pressures to please people can be overwhelming and exhausting for children and teens who are experiencing domestic violence. It is hard for some children and teens to say “no,” especially because in some instances in their home, saying “no” is met with violence. Brainstorming and talking with them about ways to set boundaries shows them that is it okay to say “no” and set limits.
A teenager that you work with is a great worker. She is always on time, does her job well, and gets along with others. However, one night at work, she confides in you that her parents are fighting a lot. You take a deep breath and ask her a few more questions about the situation. She says “things got really bad.” She describes some of the name-calling and hitting that went on, but doesn’t get into much detail. You listen carefully. She is vague in her descriptions of the events. She tearfully walks away when you get called to do some work. You:
Might say to her, “That must have been really scary. I’m sorry this is happening to you, but you’re not alone. I’m willing to help in any way that I can. If you ever need to talk, I’m here to listen.”
This provides an opportunity to engage the young person in more conversation. You also show that you are a person who cares, is ready to listen, and may be able to help.
Approach her later, telling her that you are sorry that she is dealing with this and provide her with some information on a local domestic violence agency that provides services for children and teens experiencing domestic violence. You brainstorm with her ways to stay safe when the violence is happening at home. She develops a plan that includes going to her room to listen to music or going to her neighbor’s house. You may also want to talk to her about what to do if the safety plan does not work, including calling 911.
Providing resources and discussing ideas with children and teens about what to do when the violence is occurring is essential to keeping them safe. It is also important to discuss with them what happens if the safety plan does not work, so they don’t feel guilty about not being able to stop the violence.
Ask your manager or human resource staff person to do a workplace training on domestic violence and provide domestic violence resources to employees.
Providing domestic violence resources in the workplace can give a safe place for women, children and teens to open up and seek help. Domestic violence information and resources at work allow employees to ask for help individually without fear of being discovered. Visit the resources page for more help.
A woman and her three children attend services every week. They are always polite, quiet, and well dressed. The woman’s husband attends services occasionally. One week during the refreshment hour after a service, the man snaps his fingers at the woman and children and says, “It’s time to leave.” The children ask for a treat. He glares at them and says, “When I say it’s time to go, I mean it. Now get in the car!” You overhear him mutter under his breath, “Damn kids are just like their mother. They never listen.” The next week at service, he is not there, but the woman and children are. You:
Ensure the faith community has domestic violence resources available to the members. You can also ask the faith community leaders to speak out on domestic violence and the effects on children, to build awareness, and help those who might be affected.
Providing domestic violence resources can indicate a safe place for women and children to open up and seek help without fear of being discovered.
Try to set up a play date between the children.
This provides opportunities for you and your family to show positive relationships to the children by exposing them to other homes. It can also reduce the isolation the mother and children may be feeling and provide an opportunity to build a supportive relationship with them.
Approach the mother and the children, saying, “I hope it’s okay – I made these cookies for the children. I have been so impressed by their excellent behavior. And I noticed they weren’t able to get a treat last week.” If you think it is appropriate, you may say something about what you saw last week and offer support.
Supporting and connecting with the mother in addition to the children provides opportunities for further support of the children by creating a relationship. It can also create an opportunity for the mother to see you as a safe and supportive adult her children can turn to, if needed.