Thoughtful Parenting: Children and domestic violence
A simple question parents often ask is, “What does my child need?” Children need a home that is safe and loving and free of violence and parents who protect them. Home should provide a sense of stability, with comfort and support.
For too many children, home is not a safe place. Each year, millions of children are exposed to domestic violence in the home, and this can have a powerful impact on their lives. These children may witness the violence, hear the distressing sounds or sense it. UNICEF reports: “Violence in the home is one of the most pervasive human rights challenges of our time.”
What might thoughtful parenting look like in homes where violence is occurring? Children who are exposed to intimate partner violence need to know they are not alone and that the violence is not their fault. Children who have one adult who gives them love, support, and attentive care cope better than those who do not.
Findings also suggest that strong parenting provides a protective buffer following exposure to intimate partner violence. Mothers experiencing abuse often try to compensate by becoming more effective parents. Frequently, these mothers make an effort to pay more attention to their children and be more responsive as a way to compensate for the violence they are experiencing.
Important findings regarding the effect of father visitation on preschool-age children who witnessed intimate partner violence evidenced fewer internalizing symptoms if they had weekly visits with their fathers.
Other factors play into these findings, however, and this can be an important role in parenting children who live in homes where violence is present. Consistent discipline, preventing aggressive behavior by a parent and supportiveness are important to the healthy development of children.
Middle childhood is a time when children’s capacity to question and make meaning of their experiences increases. If children believe they have a role in causing conflict between their parents or feel responsible for not intervening, they may feel sad or guilty for not stopping the violence. It is important for parents to provide the opportunity to discuss with their children the violence that is occurring; in this way, parents can be instrumental in shaping their children’s understanding of intimate partner violence and why it is occurring.
Parenting is the most important thing we do and can, at times, be the most difficult. What do parents need? Support from family and friends, co-parenting support and community resources can be helpful for parents as they navigate the exciting adventure of parenting.
Advocates Building Peaceful Communities is a local, community-based agency that provides confidential support to victims and families, short-term crisis counseling, shelter and other outreach services.
Diane Moore has worked in the field of domestic and sexual violence for 33 years and serves as executive director of Advocates Building Peaceful Communities in Routt County. She has been designated as an expert in intimate partner violence, as well as its impact on children; sexual violence; and stalking.
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