Top 10 Tips for Parenting During and After Domestic Abuse
Dealing with domestic abuse is a harrowing ordeal for all involved. As with most things in life, being open and talking through our experiences can help, although it may take time...
1. Give your child time to talk and listen to them
Children need time to discuss how they feel about the abuse they lived with. They may act out to get your attention if they feel unheard or confused. If you can, take a few moments each day to play and talk with your child.
2. Reassure your child it is not their fault and that abusive behaviour is wrong
Being clear that the abuser's behaviour is wrong and unacceptable can help children make decisions about their own behaviour. Being open and honest about the fact that the abuser has hurt people around them can make it less confusing for children as they get consistent messages about behaviour. Let them know in a clear way 'people are not for hurting' if you see them hitting others.
3. Keep adult issues to adults
When discussing abuse with a child keep the language and detail at a level they understand. Keep adult matters for the adults who can support you. Children should not become best friends or confidants. They need to be reassured that you are the parent and they are a child.
4. Show unconditional love
Children living with domestic abuse often learn that love comes with rules and conditions. By showing you love them, a child will understand that love can be given with no conditions and no threats.
5. Be clear about what you expect from your children
It might feel like you spend your life saying "No" or "Don't do that". To challenge your child's behaviour tell them the things you would like them to do. For example instead of "Stop screaming" you could say "Slow down, try telling me what you want to say, I am listening".
6. Praise good behaviour
To help children build their confidence it is important that we try not to just focus on the things which they are doing wrong, although these are often the things that grab our attention most. Think of a child as a piggy bank, to keep their confidence balance good we need to put in three lots of praise to every single negative withdrawal.
7. Focus on the behaviour
It is important not to label a child's behaviour as a quality of your child. Make it clear that it is the behaviour you don't like, not your child. For example instead of saying "You are a messy boy" try "I don't like the kitchen untidy could you help me to tidy up?"
8. Try to keep emotion out of discipline
It is very hard to stay patient and calm when we are exhausted and frustrated. When experiencing domestic abuse we may also be scared, angry and depressed. If children are also being challenging it is very hard to keep a cool head. Try to slow things down, take a deep breath and think about what you are going to do before jumping in. Children often do not react to shouting if they live with lots of arguing. You are more likely to get a reaction if you are calm and in control. It can be helpful to say sorry to them if you have been overly angry and irritable with them.
9. Offer an opportunity for children to make choices
Decide which parts of your child's routine need to be consistent, such as bedtime. Try and offer choices wherever possible, for example, what they want to wear and what they want for lunch. Make the choices limited so you don't create work for yourself. This will encourage your child to problem-solve and feel in control of their lives without being overwhelmed.
10. Keep your expectations realistic
It is important to remember that your child will be affected by living with domestic abuse and they are likely to behave in a way which helps them cope with the confusion and mixed feelings they have. Try to put yourself in their shoes and think about what it is they are trying to tell you with their behaviour.
You can be a good role model. Children can learn to survive from watching their non-abusive parent manage with difficulties. Recognise that you can be a good role model and a good parent.
You are the most important person for your children!
You might find our booklist useful: Supporting Children after Domestic Abuse and Violence and our online course Confident Parenting.