What do kids need?

picture of a little boyThe counselor helped me talk to my mom about how scared I was and how my tummy hurt. I didn’t want to bother mom because she had all that stuff with dad to worry about. But now I feel so much better. And me and mom are going to be all right. – 9-year-old boy


Experiencing domestic violence affects children and youth differently and as a result, each one may need different things in order to heal. Even children within the same family may require different levels of care. However, all children benefit from maintaining a strong connection with the non-abusing parent or caregiver, most often their mother. DV programs can help all children and youth heal by helping to create supportive and stable environments that provide:

  • Safety, stability and predictability in their daily lives
  • Support to maintain or rebuild a strong bond with their mother
  • Contact with the abuser that is safe and not traumatizing
  • Support for their ambivalent feelings about both parents
  • To know that they are not alone, that the abuse in their home is not their fault, and that they are not responsible for protecting others
  • Help developing an age-appropriate plan for their own safety and coordinating this plan with their non-abusive parent
  • Help coping with troubling experiences and releasing feelings
  • Opportunities to experience success and to have their achievements recognized
  • Opportunities to challenge the values of the abuser, to learn that violence and abuse are wrong, and to practice equitable, nonviolent ways to solve problems
  • Resources and activities in their community that provide safety and stability for their family and the means to live free of abuse

Helping Children and Youth Heal From Domestic Violence:

Whether you are working with children individually or in groups, these ideas and strategies form the foundation for helping children and youth who have been exposed to domestic violence.

  • Provide opportunities for them to talk, be listened to, and feel supported, individually and with other children.
  • Teach them what safety is and what they can do to stay safe, and help coordinate their safety plans with their mother.
  • Help them develop skills for critical thinking, learn that violence and abuse are wrong, and to learn equitable, nonviolent ways to solve problems and get along with others.

Help them understand that:

  • Other families have problems like theirs.
  • The abuse they have experienced is not their fault.
  • The abuse they have experienced is also not their mother¡¦s fault.
  • They are not responsible for taking care of their family.
  • The batterer is responsible for the abuse.
  • Acknowledge the love and resentment that they may feel for both of their parents
  • Help them understand the impact of trauma on each member of their family.
  • Create predictable routines and clear rules and consequences so kids know what to expect.
  • Help them identify people they trust who know about the abuse and are able to protect them.
  • Provide them with opportunities to express themselves and process what they¡¦ve experienced through words, art and play.
  • Recognize their unique strengths and abilities, and help them feel good about themselves.
  • Recognize their mother as the expert on her family and their situation, and acknowledge and support her strengths as a parent.
  • Create opportunities to rebuild and strengthen their relationship with their mother, to feel respect for her, and know that she can help them stay safe.
  • Provide support that is consistent with their cultural values and beliefs.

This information was developed by the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence and reprinted with their permission.