The impact of domestic violence and/or abuse on a family can be devastating and is a challenge experienced by families from all backgrounds. Exposure to or being the victim of domestic violence can be as damaging for a young person as experiencing it first-hand. Domestic violence includes psychological, physical, sexual, financial and emotional abuse. It is more common than many people realise with one in four women in the UK and one in six men experiencing domestic violence in their lifetime. It can be an act or series of acts used to punish, humiliate, harm or frighten the victim. Talking about the impact of domestic violence on your family can be an important first step to facing your family monsters.
Someone who has experienced domestic violence or witnessed it from a young age may develop severe anxiety or trauma. They might form coping strategies to manage their feelings. They may be prone to triggers, meaning they might mistake your actions for abusive behaviour and gravitate outside the home towards people who behave in coercive or inappropriate ways that are familiar to them.
Children can feel guilty because they think they’ve done something wrong. They can feel confused, as they still love the abusive parent. Traumatic memories they’ve repressed while they were very young may result in them not being able to feel physical or emotional reactions. A child may not be able to recognise their body’s reactions: if they have eaten, if they are hot or cold, or feel as if they do not have a conscience.
It’s so important to allow your child to express their feelings when they are ready and equally to acknowledge if they’re not yet ready to talk about it.
Let your child know it is okay to feel anger and love towards someone, that they can dislike the behaviour but love the parent and this doesn’t make them bad.
Practical ways to help your child
Let them know you will keep them safe. Stability, predictability and consistency are important. Children need authoritative, loving parenting and plenty of one-to-one time and affection.
Encourage openness. Your child needs to know they can speak to you about anything. You could leave jars around the house that they can put their thoughts into or have regular family time when you check in with how everyone is feeling.
Children need to hear from you that domestic violence and abuse is not okay and that they don’t deserve to have this happen in their family. Tell them that it’s not their fault and that there is nothing they could have done to stop the violence.
Help your child regain a sense of control by finding areas in their lives where they can make plans and decisions and support them to take action. Making daily routines that provide structure and stability will also help address feelings of powerlessness.
If you are in a relationship, try to find time for each other. If you have a loving relationship, your child will feel safe, secure and stable. Having a support system of wider family or friends will also help.
If you are in an abusive relationship you should accept that you are not to blame and seek help and support. This might mean you need to leave your home, ask the person causing you harm to leave or take legal action.
If you are unsafe at home try and leave and stay with friends or family, at a women’s/men’s refuge or you can apply to your local authority for emergency housing. The housing charity Shelter offers further information about housing options for those in abusive relationships. You can also contact the organisations listed below for further information and advice.
Call 999 if you are in danger.
Our free FamilyLine helpline is here to provide a listening ear, answer those particular parenting questions you have or help with guidance around more complex issues. All via telephone, text message or email for free.
Monday to Friday 6pm-10pm
Saturday and Sunday 10am-1pm
Telephone: 0808 802 6666
Text message: 07537 404 282
Join the conversation on social media and share your family monsters using #MyFamilyMonsters. Let’s face our monsters together.