How Parents Can Support Their Children?
Let your children know that the violence is not their fault. Children often feel that their behaviour caused the violence and/or separation. They need to be told that it is an adult problem and they did not cause it.
Reaffirm your unconditional love for your children. They may fear that their behaviour will cause you to leave or divorce. Let them know that you will always love them no matter how they behave. Remind them that when parents make mistakes it does not mean that they do not love their children.
Promote your child’s self esteem. Try to spend time with them. Express love and affection. Notice what they are doing right. Encourage them to be children.
Allow your children to express different types of feelings. When parents separate, children may feel sad, angry, ashamed, guilty, afraid, confused, relieved, or worried about who will take care of them. These are all natural reactions you can expect from your children.
Help your children find safe ways to express their feelings. Build your child’s self esteem by trying to notice and comment on what your children are doing right.
Reassure your children that they will be okay. Explain that there have been many changes. Help them understand that their family is not the only family that has had this experience, and that other families have made things better.
Encourage your children to talk about what they saw and/or heard. It may be hard to hear what they experienced, but everyone needs the chance to express their feelings – especially feelings of anger, hurt, pain or fear.
Allow your children time to express these feelings and accept them. Children need to know it is also okay to share their feelings with others.
Acknowledge the mixed/confusing feelings children may have toward their parents. It is okay to love someone and feel angry at the same time.
Reassure your children that you don’t expect them to look after you. They may feel responsible for keeping you or their siblings safe. The priority is to keep everyone safe. Give children skills to help them stay safe. Brainstorm a list of people they can go to if they need help, as well as a safe place in the home.
Encourage and give your children permission to be children, and not a friend, or a confidant to you. Develop a support system for yourself, independent from your children. You deserve to be able to express and share your feelings.
Remember that your children’s anger may not be directed at you – it is often about other things. Sometimes the anger has been brewing for a long while, and the child now feels safe enough to let it out. This is a good thing.
Understand that there is a reason for your children’s behaviour. Acknowledge this in words they can understand. Unless you discuss what is going on, your children will work out reasons of their own for the problems and will often blame themselves.
Redefine the word “family”. Often women who have been abused feel guilty and blame themselves for the change in circumstances. Do not try to make up for it in other ways. A spotless home won’t create a perfect family. Nor will toys. Create a home where the emotional needs of you and your children are nurtured.
Create a method of discipline that is respectful and does not humiliate your children. Do not abuse your children.
Remember your children are not the abuser. Do not tell them that they are “just like” the abuser, especially when they are having trouble controlling their anger. Their relationship with you is different. You are the adult who must provide them with safety and security.
Children can respond differently to stressful situations. Some may have more problems coping than others. The way children cope depends on factors such as their ability to handle stressful situations and their support system.
Mention to your children’s teachers or daycare staff that there have been changes in your family. It helps when your children are understood and supported by other adults. If there is a change in your children’s behaviour, others will then be better able to help them.
Be clear with your children about what is happening in everyday life. Children who live with abuse need information ahead of time about where they will be, and how long they will be staying there. If your children have a hard time separating from you, reassure them that you will be safe and let them know when you will be back.
Get support for yourself. It takes a lot of patience to cope with your children, especially when they have been exposed to abuse.
(Adapted from: B.C. Institute Against Family Violence. Volume 6, Issue 2, Summer 1999.)
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