Thoughtful Parenting: Children need support, security and safety to thrive
What do our children need? A home that is safe and secure and parents who protect them. A sense of routine and stability. A belief that when things go wrong in the outside world, their homes will provide comfort, help and support.
When children are exposed to domestic violence in their homes, those homes are not safe and secure havens. They are scenes of verbal, psychological and sometimes physical abuse. How can children feel protected and secure when their parents are not safe? Children do not have to have directly witnessed domestic violence between their parents to be affected by it. Even children who may be “too young to remember” experience the negative effects of being exposed to domestic violence.
Adults who have contact with children from unsafe homes may notice the children have difficulty learning, have limited social skills, may engage in violent or risky behaviors and suffer from anxiety and depression. They often lose their ability to trust adults, even those who offer care and concern.
The brains of children in unsafe homes are adversely affected, which is why the children appear to be different than their peers from safe homes. When children’s brains are preoccupied with survival and staying safe, the part of the brain needed for learning and interacting with others doesn’t work very well. The younger the children, even during their mothers’ pregnancies, the deeper the impact domestic violence has on their developing brains. Their brains stay on Red Alert, anticipating some scary event.
Children whose parents are getting divorced because of domestic violence may be at additional risk when they are under the care of the parent who committed domestic violence. During divorce proceedings, attorneys and judges often either do not know about or do not take into account the adverse effects of domestic violence on children when they make parenting time recommendations and/or decisions.
Children need to know there are adults who will listen to them, believe them and shelter them. Those adults include teachers, neighbors, relatives and friends’ parents.
Most of all, children need adults who will speak out and break the silence.
If you are an adult in the life of a child you suspect is being exposed to some type of domestic violence, there are two agencies that can provide help: Advocates Building Peaceful Communities, 970-879-2034, and the Routt County Department of Human Services, 970-870-5533.
By sharing your concerns about children’s welfare, you can be that helpful adult in their lives.
Martha Drake (Chris) Young, Ph.D., is a child and family psychologist in private practice. Chris may be reached at 970-291-9259.
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