By: Adrienne G., Turning Point Staff
Our children learn what they live. Witnessing the abuse and battering of a parent or caregiver by another parent or caregiver is the strongest risk factor for those children to repeat domestic violence later in their own relationships. However, this path is not inevitable. Utilizing abuse in a relationship is always a choice, one that many child witnesses of violence do not make. There is no question about it, witnessing domestic violence is traumatic for children and has deleterious effects, however, the fact that children witness is not an immediate sentence to being an offender/victim or unable to heal. In fact, many children exposed to domestic violence heal and thrive despite their experiences. Adults in the lives of these children have the opportunity to help strengthen their journey toward growth and health.
Even though future perpetrators of domestic violence are more likely to come from homes where there was domestic violence, research has shown that many, many children who witness domestic violence do not continue the violence. Witnessing domestic violence can have different outcomes based on gender. Daughters may be less likely than sons to become involved in a violent relationship as an adult. Studies are indicating that child witnesses can develop strengths that may circumvent some negative effects. Some children living in domestic violence shelters have shown even higher social competence than comparison children.
Despite all odds against them, more than half of the children exposed to battering are able to negotiate their experiences and thrive. These children are resilient. Resiliency is the ability to succeed meeting developmental tasks, learning and growing in spite of the experience of trauma.
Resiliency factors are those things in a child’s environment, personality or coping skills that help to protect them from being at risk for harmful behavior. Consistent support from an adult, especially from the non-violent caregiver, is a huge factor that fosters resilience. A strong, safe and trusting relationship with even just one adult will yield huge benefits in helping child witnesses of violence navigate the many stressors of their experiences.
Kids who have a sense of humor, are communicative and believe that they do at least one thing well tend to be more resilient. Resiliency is also achieved by children and youth who have developed coping skills that can translate into long term strengths. Some examples of such coping skills are the child who reads incessantly in order to alleviate stress, or throws themselves into their schoolwork/sports/hobbies as a means of escape.
Children can also find power in caring for younger siblings, or developing enhanced problem solving skills in order to keep themselves safe. All give them skills that help them to gain some sense of power in a situation where they had no control.
Since batterers isolate their families and demand silence from them, we never quite know how many children in our community are exposed to this crime. Adults who are lucky enough to be able to interact with children and youth have the opportunity to influence and reinforce resiliency factors. Here are some ways we can help promote a resiliency when interacting with children and youth:
- See the strengths in each child. Everyone has many positive characteristics. Put effort into finding these in the children you know and then share your observations with them.
- Give children opportunity to have positive experiences of using their own power. If they show interest in or are good at something, find ways to help them expand these experiences.
- Listen to them without judgment. The more children and youth feel comfortable communicating, the more they will share with you.
- Let the dirty dishes sit, put down the cell phone and turn off the tv more and just spend some time with the young people in your life.