While it is important to understand the effects of domestic violence on children, you must also realize that you may not always be able to stop your children from witnessing violence because of your abusive situation. It is the abuser’s fault that the children are witnessing violence in their home, not yours. Your primary concerns should be you and your children’s safety. Substance abuse may be one cause of domestic violence.
How domestic violence can affect children
Violence in the home can affect children in several ways:
- Children who witness violence in their homes may be traumatized by it.
- They may have nightmares or anxiety attacks.
- They may have problems concentrating and “act out” against friends or siblings.
- They may become depressed or withdrawn.
- Domestic violence may cause children to think that violence is an acceptable way to solve problems, and may increase the chance that the child may be involved in future abusive relationships as an adult.
How to keep your children safe
By seeking help to get out of the abusive relationship, you are doing the best you can for you and your children. If you are in an abusive relationship and sense that an incident of violence is about to happen, you should do the following:
- Create a Code Phrase A Code phrase lets your children know they should leave the room or house for a while, and go to a neighbor’s house or another room in your house to call the police. A code phrase could be “Kids, we have a big problem right now, so you should go somewhere to play.” Your children would know that when they hear the words “big problem” they should call the police for help or go to a neighbor.
- Plan for Child Safety You should ask a trusted friend or relative to watch your children while you go to a shelter to seek help to escape the abusive relationship. Many shelters will allow your children to stay with you. You can find out more information about your nearest shelter.
- Plan for Your Safety Make a safety plan. When putting together things to go into your safety bag, make sure to bring your children’s birth certificates, Social Security cards, passports, favorite toys, medications, and clothes. Find out more information on how to stay safe.
How to talk to your children about domestic violence
Things you should mention to your children when you talk to them about domestic violence:
- The violence they are seeing in their home is not okay, and show them other successful ways to deal with problems,
- That you are getting help to stop the violence from happening,
- Make sure they know that the violence is not their fault,
- Encourage your children to draw pictures or keep a diary if they are sad or angry about what is happening, and
- Let your children know they can talk to you if they are upset.
Things you should know:
- Until there is an order by the court that gives one parent temporary or permanent custody, both parents, regardless of marital status, have equal rights to their children.
- The courts will look at in the "best interests of the child" to see which parent will get custody or how the custody will be shared. If you do not have a court-ordered custody, custody can be included as part of a protective order. This arrangement will last only as long the order is in effect. Many domestic violence shelters can also provide legal assistance on custody as well as protective orders. You can also find legal help from the legal aid providers and private attorneys.
After you get an order from the court to get custody of your children, the abuser may still be awarded visitation with the children, unless s/he does not request visitation, or if s/he does not show up to the Order hearing.
If you think that the abuser is not a fit parent, for example if s/he has problems with drugs or if s/he has threatened to take your children out of state or out of the country against your wishes, you should tell this to the judge at your hearing. These are things the judge will consider when trying to determine if the abuser should be awarded visitation.
There are two types of supervised visitation you should know about:
- Supervised visitation is visitation between a parent and child held at a neutral location. Supervised visitations are closely monitored by staff who may intervene when necessary to ensure appropriate parent/child interactions.
- Monitored exchanges means that the parents pre-arrange times at which the custodial parent/guardian brings the child to a neutral center. The visiting parent picks up the child for off-site visitation and returns him/her to the center at a pre-arranged time. Staggered pick-up and drop-off times are usually arranged so that the parents do not have to be in contact with one another. The actual exchange is monitored by staff who generally try to ease the process for the child.