If you suspect a child or youth is exposed to intimate partner violence, one thing you can do is connect with your local domestic violence service provider to inquire about support and resources. In addition, we can all make a difference in the lives of the children and youth that we work with. Whether we are in a classroom, social service setting, medical setting, or congregation, we can all play an important role to support children, youth, and families experiencing intimate partner violence.
Strategies for working with children
There are some basic strategies which are helpful when working with children who have been exposed to intimate partner violence. We can work to ensure that the environment feels safe and supportive for children to talk about their experiences. If we are providing services, it is helpful to allow children time to become familiar with the services provided and the staff who will work with them. Ongoing stability and predictability for children increases their trust and their belief in the safety of their surroundings, providing an environment in which healing can occur. Here are some ways we can offer safety, stability and predictability:
- Help them to know what to expect and plan with them what happens next.
- Provide guidance for expectations around behavior.
- Be respectful of a child’s personal and physical space.
- Be a good role model for honoring boundaries. For some children, trust has been broken repeatedly and boundaries are often blurred.
It is important to present information and interact with children in ways that are understandable and appropriate considering their developmental stage, age, experiences, and what they need. Children communicate in many ways, not just with words but through actions and play. It’s important to take the time to listen and to recognize nonverbal cues. Be prepared, when we listen, we may hear stories that are upsetting. At the same time, it is important to hear and validate children’s realities about their experiences.
Click here to access a useful tool to better understand how to support children exposed to intimate partner violence (1).
1. Alison Cunningham & Linda Baker (2007) little eyes, little ears how violence against a mother shapes children as they grow. The Centre for Children and Families in the Justice System