Talking to Your Children About Domestic Violence

Talking to Your Children About Domestic Violence

If your child is witnessing abuse in your home, what you’re experiencing is likely made even worse by the concern you feel for your child. Children who live in homes where abuse occurs – whether the abuse is emotional, verbal, physical or some other form – are very likely to be psychologically and emotionally affected by what they see and hear.

Children may respond differently to witnessing abuse. They may withdraw, or they might act out. They might pretend it’s no big deal, or they may quickly show signs of trauma, such as anxiety, sleep disruption or problems in school. Children can experience a range of emotions when living in abusive households including fear, anger, isolation and guilt. They may even feel conflicted about loving their abusive parent. These are very normal feelings, and it’s important that they be validated.

It’s normal for people who have been in a violent relationship to NOT want to talk to their kids about it. It might seem safer to pretend that the abuse didn’t happen, assume that the kids don’t know about it or hope they will just forget about it. But, denying or ignoring abuse can actually create more confusion and fear, so it’s important to talk to your children about what’s going on whenever possible.

What can you do?

  • Ask about how they’re feeling, and try to really listen and understand them
  • Allow them to share whatever types of feelings they have towards the abusive parent
  • Let them know you believe them if they share something
  • Let them know the abuse is not their fault or your own
  • Let them know you love them and want to keep them safe
  • Let them know the violence is not okay, but focus on the behaviors rather than on the character of the abusive person
  • Acknowledge that it might be hard or scary for them, and that it’s okay to feel angry, sad, scared, etc.
  • Accept that they may not be willing or able to talk about it right away
  • Help them learn healthy ways of dealing with anger, fear and other emotions
  • Help them get involved in things that boost their self-esteem and make them feel good about themselves
  • Always act in a way that is non-threatening and non-violent with your kids
  • Consider taking them to counseling or therapy if possible
  • Maintain as much structure and routine with them as you can
  • Create a safety plan with them and explain actions taken in direct relation to unsafe and unhealthy behaviors

Additional Resources



Thank you to the Pamela Anderson Foundation for sponsoring this page.
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