Children who have grown up with domestic violence have witnessed poor behavior by adults and will tend to use that same behavior when dealing with their own problems. The children may be hurtful or disruptive when they encounter problems. The adults around them must learn to be consistent and patient when trying to change this behavior. Maintaining consistent limits and encouraging better behavior can help.
When children become angered or difficult over an issue, try to teach them to cooperate and use problem-solving skills to deal with them. An example would be to ask the child to explain how the child sees the situation and then ask about other options to deal with the situation. If the child cannot think of any positive actions, you can suggest a couple and discuss how the child could try using them. Encourage positive responses, but be cautious not to demean negative responses.
You can also use rewards as a method of teaching/reinforcing positive behavior. But keep in mind that you must be consistent with using rewards. A child will test the limits to see if the child can still get a reward. The child will also stop trying to achieve rewards if the child feels that you are unfair or inconsistent with when and how you give them out.
Remember: hitting, slapping, or verbally humiliating a child from a domestically violent home is not acceptable. By getting close to one of these children you are becoming a role model. You are also trying to demonstrate non-violent methods of behavior and interaction. By doing this you can help remove the child from the future cycle of violence that the child could grow into.
While each one is different, children can develop similar personalities and responses to domestically violent situations. Listed below are three personality types and suggested methods for dealing with them should you encounter a child that fits a specific type.
The Ethnic Child
Dealing with children from various ethnic backgrounds can be delicate. Aside from their physical and emotional needs, you will need to consider the values and traditions of their ethnic heritage. Some things to be aware of:
- Any potential language barrier; some languages do not have words for domestic violence characteristics (such as incest).
- The role expectations of men, women, and children within the family.
- The general distrust of the American system by people from other cultures.
- The social and environmental isolation of the mother and children.
- A potential problem with U.S. residency and citizenship.
- The possibility that the children will be placed in a foster home of a different ethnic background.
Ethnic children may first turn to a relative or family member. But some cultures do not allow for relatives to get directly involved. When an ethnic child turns to someone outside of the family it is very important that the child be brought to someone who meets the following criteria:
- Speaks the child's native language.
- Knows the traditions, beliefs, and values of the ethnic culture.
- Understands domestic violence.
The Agressive Child
Children from violent homes grow up with a violent role model and learn that aggression is an effective way of controlling others. This leads to the child being aggressive. An aggressive child needs to be taught that while anger is okay, it is not okay to hurt others when the child is angry. Here are some tips to working with aggressive children:
- Encourage the child to talk about or act out what makes the child so angry using art, creative acting, or play.
- Communicate your limits and what you expect of the child and then stick to those limits.
- If the child has too much aggression, give the child some room to express anger where others will not be hurt. It may be necessary to give the child an inflatable bat or pillow to help vent rage. Afterwards discuss other options that can be tried after the child has burned off some energy.
The Silent Child
A silent child is retreating as a method of protection. Although the child may not be verbal, the child does listen and observe what is happening. The key to interacting with this type of child is trust. Once the child trusts you, the child is more likely to begin to open up to you. Keep these points in mind:
- Do not push the child to respond to you. Be gentle and caring and allow the child to choose the pace. The child may start communicating with just a smile or whisper.
- Provide access to art materials. The child's drawings and creations may give you a tip as to how the child feels and what is important to the child.
- Use positive reinforcement whenever you can find a reason. But keep it low key in the beginning, or you may frighten the child.
- Read the child stories to convey messages and feelings. You might also try using puppets or stuffed animals to get the child to feel comfortable.
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