Working With Kids Who Have Been Exposed to DV
Written by Asian Pacific Women's Center
Friday, 29 August 2014 23:40


Working with children who have been exposed to interpersonal violence

"Interpersonal violence is defined by the World Health Organization as any behavior within an intimate relationship that causes physical, psychological, or sexual harm to those in the relationship. Violence is considered the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actually, against another person that results in a high likelihood of resulting in injury and/or psychological harm or death."

Did you know, that children of all ages including adolescents, are susceptible to the negative impact of Interpersonal Violence?
A common myth people have is that infants, young infants, or toddlers do not understand or remember violent scenes. However, multiple studies show that memories are imprinted on the human brain permanently and severely affects the development of the child exposed.

Here are 11 tips you should know while working with our child-clients (information provided by Futures Without Violence):

1. Establish a respectful and trusting relationship with the child's mother.
Many mothers have a deep sense of guilt about the violence their children have been exposed to. Mothers may take extreme measures to protect their children as a method of coping with this guilt. As a Volunteer, console the mother, tell her you understand her sense of reluctance, and assure her the child-client is in good hands.

2. Let mothers and children know it is okay to discuss what happened, and that children are open to engaging in discussions because we encourage healing.
Part of our goal, as volunteers in this organization, is to provide a safe haven to speak openly. Research shows that many children like to express their experience with IPV, but may not have the capacity to relay their message. We ask that you encourage safe speaking at APWC. These discussions are very important in helping children heal, please recognize that children may tell their story through various ways (ie drawing, reading, and in their playing styles).

3. Tell children they are not responsible for the violence.
Young children tend to view the world egocentrically. They often believe they are the ones to blame for the violence. Children who believe they are the root of the violence, often show more behavioral concerns than children who do not believe they are at fault.

4. Foster children's self-esteem by showing and telling them they are lovable, competent and important.
Being responsive to children's emotional distress and providing support is a way to practice being a positive role model. It also helps boost children's self esteem by informing the child they are competent.

5. Help children know what to expect.
Establish a predictable environment. This can be done by providing regular schedules, clear expectations and routines. This helps the child's sense of security and is important in helping them transition out of the shelter.

6. Model and encourage friendship.
Demonstrate positive interactions by treating others with respect and kindness. Children often pick up on your interaction with others, and can use it as a model on how to be a better friend. Children exposed to IPV have fewer problems if they feel accepted in their environment.

7. Use "emotion" words to help children understand how others might feel during disagreements.
Model emotional statements look like, "It looks like Timothy is sad that you did not share.// We do not hit because it hurts when you hit. // That made me upset." By using emotion words you assist children in developing emotional speaking skills while aiding them in understanding their words can hurt peers.

8. Recognize that when children are disruptive, they generally feel out of control and may not have the ability to use strategies to express themselves.
Children who were exposed to violence can show signs of anxiety, attention disorders, and insecurity. When children appear "out of control" please use a calm and respective tone. Do not reprimand the child but instead encourage them to talk about why they are acting out. You should be a model of support.

9. Incorporate family culture when exploring decision making and empowerment.
Culture is a huge part of self-identity. Culture affects the approach individuals may have and the way they communicate with the outside world. Please work with the culture instead of against the culture to encourage a speedier recovery process.

10. Actively teach and model alternatives to violence.
If you see two children arguing, guide them in solving the issue and respecting some one else's point of view. This will generate peaceful solutions rather than develop aggressive / bitter behavior.

11. Involve mothers in conversations.
Children have mixed feelings about their abusive parent many times. It is important that you respect the perspective of the mother as a model for the child-client. The child-client will model off of you and the perception you portray when communicating.