Interacting with Children
Here is some information about interacting with children who have witnessed domestic violence. Remember that it is the perpetrator’s choice to expose violence to their children. Do not blame the mother for the violence that is being perpetrated against her. Hold the perpetrator responsible for his actions.
- Identify Feelings: Help the child identify and express his/her feelings by labeling and expressing your own.
- Set Clear, Fair Limits: Children need and appreciate structure in their lives. Be fair, but firm. Be assertive enough to say no when necessary.
- Be Consistent: Be consistent in the standards you set. Knowing something that is O.K. today will be O.K. tomorrow, helps a child build trust.
- Allow Choices: Give a child a choice when possible. Letting a child choose between animal crackers and saltine provides an opportunity for the child to exercise control over her/his life. Making choices also aides the decision-making process.
Maximize Positive Interactions: Try to express your requests in a positive way. This will help the child learn a more appropriate way of doing things. For example:
Turn the page carefully. Don’t tear the book! Talk in a quiet voice. Don’t yell and scream! Be sure the ladder is safe. Be careful. You might fall.
Encourage positive behavior by paying more attention to the child when he/she is acting appropriately.
- Use Communication Skills: Listen more than you talk. Answer the child’s questions, but do not monopolize the conversation. Establish eye contact. Get down on the child’s level if possible. That is, kneel or sit on a low chair so he/she can see your face.
- Admit Mistakes: Apologize to a child when you make a mistake or have been unfair. This helps them with apologies and also establishes mutual respect.
- Model Having Fun: Some children need help having fun. Show them how it is done! Joining in a play activity shows the child you respect his/her autonomy.
- Encourage Childhood: Encourage age-appropriate behavior. Although a 7-year-old who holds, feeds and plays with his/her younger sibling is helpful, this pseudo maturity is unhealthy for him/her. She/he deserves a childhood.
- Ban Physical Punishment: The use of physical punishment or the threat of physical punishment is unacceptable as it runs contrary to all previous suggestions and models inappropriate adult behavior.
A Note on Terminology
Domestic violence/relationship abuse refers to intimate relationships, not child abuse. Because the vast majority of relationship abuse is committed by men against women in heterosexual relationships, this website sometimes contains the female gender pronoun when referring to the abused person. Domestic violence/relationship abuse happens at the same rate in LGBTQQ relationships and all of the information on this site is relevant for male victims and for individuals in same-gender relationships. In addition, please see our resources on same-gender relationships. Our goal is to encourage helping professionals to be gender inclusive. This includes using gender-neutral language when working with individuals, while continuing to analyze gender as a construct that has implications on gender-based violence in both heterosexual and same-gender relationships.