When children see, hear, or know about abuse by one parent against the other, they may have many feelings, thoughts, and questions. A caring parent is the most important person to children as they try to sort things out.
It may not be easy to talk about what has happened, but communication and support can help children cope in the aftermath of their experiences.
If you still feel unsafe at home, you may worry that talking with the children will put the family at greater risk. If this is the case, talk to a domestic violence advocate or someone else who can help. Let your kids know that you are taking steps to make them safer. If you feel unsafe now, call 911 for emergency assistance.
Conversations with children cannot always be planned—sometimes they just happen. The following tips will help parents make the most of the conversation.
- Take the lead: When you open the conversation, you’re telling your children it is safe to talk and that they do not have to deal with their thoughts and worries alone.
- Open with messages of support, such as “I care about you and I will listen to you.”
- Ask what your children saw or heard or know about troubling events in the home.
- Expect that your children will know more than you think, no matter how young they are. Sometimes when adults assume children are asleep or not paying attention, they are actually listening. If they are too young to fully comprehend what is happening, they may fill in the gaps with their imaginations and end up worrying about something that is worse than reality.
- Let your children know it is always okay to ask questions. Often the ideas or questions that trouble children are different from the ones that adults think about. Listening to your children’s questions helps you know what is really on their minds.
- Talk to your children in a way that’s right for their ages. Use words you know they understand. Be careful not to talk about adult concerns or at an adult’s level of understanding.
- If your children ask questions you’re not ready to answer, you can say, “That’s a really important question. I need some time to think about it and then we can talk again.”
- Monitor your own feelings. If you are able to talk calmly and confidently, you convey a sense of security. A calm tone sends the message that you are in charge and capable.
- Be alert to signs that your children are ready to end the conversation. Children who have heard enough may get restless or silly, stop listening or stop asking questions.
For more information, visit www.nctsn.org/content/resources.