Thursday, 14 April 2016

Children Witnessing Domestic Abuse

"My daddy was special when I was little. He was kind and took me to school and the park. He played with me and bought me presents. With mummy we spent happy days together. We all went on Easter egg hunts and put the tree up together at Christmas. I remember having special birthday parties with mummy and daddy and all my friends. Mummy always made my birthday cakes in my favourite cartoon characters. My daddy worked hard and mummy looked after me. I swam and went to after school clubs like ballet which I loved. But something changed when I was about 7 years old. My daddy lost his job and then he became mean to mummy. They were always arguing. He shouted a lot at mummy and me. He didn't spend much time with us anymore. Nothing was the same. Mummy became very sad and she cried most of the time. We didn't do anything together as a family anymore or go out very much. Mummy slept a lot and didn't look like my mummy anymore. She was always tired, grumpy and sad. I was scared. I thought I had done something wrong and I asked mummy if I made her sad. She said "no" but I didn't believe her. I asked her if I made daddy mad, she again said "no". I became sad too and spent a lot of time alone and in my room. I didn't understand why things had changed. One day daddy hit mummy and she hid in the wardrobe. I was so scared because I couldn't find her. I thought I had lost her and wondered who would take care of me. I didn't want to stay with daddy cause he was always shouting and cross. He scared me. When I eventually found mummy she was sobbing so hard and I cuddled and cuddled her to make her feel better. I just wanted it all to stop and mummy to be happy again. One day mummy said we were leaving. She said we had to go quickly and quietly and not tell anyone. I was scared again. I didn't want to leave my toys but I also didn't want mummy to leave me behind. I never saw my home or toys again for many years. I didn't spend much time with my daddy after that. My daddy continued to shout at my mummy down the phone and mummy still cried a lot. Even though we had left it didn't stop. Mummy began to be a little better and not so sad. I remember it took along time for things to get better and I will never forget how it all made me feel."

Children who suffer and witness domestic abuse suffer too, often, just like the victim, for a lifetime. The memories do not go away. The loss does not go away. It's just like a bereavement and the healing process is the same. It takes time, support and understanding. It may take many hours and months of effective counselling. Children who witness or suffer any form of abuse, suffer trauma and the after effects for life. Trauma changes the wiring of the brain and we learn protective behaviours which are not always healthy. Young children's brains are malleable and consequently trauma has a huge impact on their future and life experiences and how they view the world and those living in it. Witnessing domestic abuse and/or violence changes how we interact with others and intimate relationships. Suffering any form of abuse has the same effect. 

Suffering abuse and trauma of any kind between the ages of 0-6 is particularly dangerous as very young children cannot verbalise threatening or dangerous events or incidents like an adult would be able to. Any event that threatens a young child's safety or their parents safety can cause early childhood trauma which can and will have an effect on them as an adult. Physical or sexual abuse, domestic violence, natural disasters, accidents, war, loss of a parent and/or painful or severe medical procedures will, in most cases, cause early childhood trauma.

Research has shown us that it is essential for children to have a reliable, positive, caring and protective caregiver around them. A consistent protective caregiver is an essential 
resource for children and young people to feel safe. It is imperative that they encourage communication about the child or young persons experience and reassurance that the adults in their life are consistently working to keep them safe.

1. Get moving - exercise can help
2. Do not isolate - surround yourself with positive empathetic individuals
3. Self regulate - mindful breathing, stay grounded and feel
4. Take care of your health - get plenty of sleep and eat well

Support is the crucial factor after trauma. Be patient, understanding and offer practical help where you can. Role model positive behaviour and assure the child or young person it is normal to feel scared, sad and upset. Do not pressurise anyone into talking or telling their story; let them talk when and if they wish to. Do nice things together, find relaxing hobbies or just eat cake and have a cuppa tea together, at home or out and about. We all react to traumatic situations and incidents differently so remember, there is no "one size fits all". Have empathy, compassion and do not judge or stereotype. Just be there. Just be there.


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