How to Talk to Children Who Experience Domestic Violence

Tori Lawrence, Child Advocate at DASAS joins the show to discuss how to talk to children who experience domestic violence.

When It’s Time to Talk

Talking about abuse is never comfortable. It can be particularly difficult to discuss the topic with your children. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t say anything.

Children have this elephant-in-the-room problem, and it can really create a kind of wedge between the child and parent. That’s when we start to see behavioral issues.

Experts say those behavioral issues are often children trying to express themselves without having the opportunity or know-how to do so verbally. Instead, they act out via tantrums, defiance and aggressive behavior.

Establishing open communication and being available to listen and answer questions is the best way to help your children deal with what’s going on.

Here are eight tips from The National Child Traumatic Stress Network for discussing domestic violence with kids.

  1. Take the lead. Don’t wait for children to come to you; they’re likely scared and uncomfortable to bring the topic up, too.

  2. Start with a message of support. Try something like, “I care about you and I will listen to you.”

  3. Find out what they know. Ask your children what they’ve seen or what they understand about what’s happening at home.

  4. Show support. Acknowledge children’s feelings and their versions of events, which may not line up with what actually happened.

  5. Tell them it’s not their fault. Children are naturally self-centered and are likely to think they’re the reason for the violence. Assure them they are not.

  6. Tell them violence is not OK. It may feel hypocritical to say, but it’s still an important message to get across.

  7. Try to stay calm. Speaking confidently conveys a sense of security. If your children ask something you’re not comfortable answering right then, tell them it’s an important question and you need some time to think before you can answer. Most importantly, make sure you do get back to them.

  8. Don’t put any burden on them. Rely on other adults for support and avoid placing stress or worry on your children by discussing relationship or custody issues with them.

It’s Okay to Ask for Help

If you’re still uncomfortable talking to your children about domestic violence, don’t be too hard on yourself.

Most likely a parent won't simply automatically know what to say. This is why the role of external supports, whether it’s an advocate, a neighbor, a friend, a therapist—someone who can really help the non-abusing parent think through what they want to say to the child—are so important.

In addition to general support, getting professional help from a child therapist anytime you are concerned about your child’s mental and emotional well-being is critical.

If your child’s behaviors are significantly interfering with their ability to function at school or at home, if there’s aggression that feels unsafe or uncontainable, if an older child gives any hint of self-harm—these are clear indications that the child needs outside help. Parents should not hesitate to seek support if they are worried about their child.

Resource that inspired this episode.

If you need help, please call our 24-hour hotline at 800-828-2023 or visit for resources.

I'm Not In An Abusive Relationship published a new episode every Wednesday morning at 8:00am EST. Please subscribe on your podcast player of choice or sign up for our email list for new episodes each week. We appreciate reviews and social shares, to help us spread the word on domestic and sexual abuse awareness.

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The mission of Domestic and Sexual Abuse Services is to lead efforts to end domestic violence and sexual assault in southwest Michigan. 

We will assist domestic violence and sexual assault survivors in clarifying their options, accessing community services that support personal choice and will provide a safe place for survivors and their children.  It is our strong desire to walk alongside survivors on their journey, whatever that may look like. 

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