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Strategies to Support Children and Teens

There are simple ways to connect with your young child and help them heal and feel loved.

We know you want the best for your child, and are trying to keep them safe and healthy while they grow. Still, it’s hard being a parent, guardian, or caregiver and it’s even harder when your family has experienced violence. There are simple ways to connect with your young child and help them heal and feel loved. For more support, download our brochure on The Power of Everyday Gestures: 12 Ways Parents Can Help Young Children Who have Experienced Domestic Violence Heal. 

  • Take care of yourself so you can be there for your child. Whenever possible, get enough sleep, eat well, exercise and go to the doctor regularly. 

  • Focus on your healing. Domestic violence can affect our parenting in ways that aren’t always obvious. Reach out for help. Taking action towards healing will make it easier for your child to do the same. 

  • Play with your child and be part of their world. Find activities that you can do together, like reading, singing, blowing bubbles, drawing, dancing, or pretend play. 

  • Listen to your child to help them feel seen, heard and valued. Show them you are listening by bending down to their level, making eye contact and putting down your phone. 

  • Make space for mistakes. Mistakes are a natural part of learning. Praising your child’s efforts will encourage them to keep trying even when things don’t work out. 

  • Be your child’s cheerleader. Tell your child what you love about them and celebrate your child’s discoveries as they explore the world around them. 

  • Inspire your child to try new activities and help them build new skills, such as building blocks, puzzles, reading to them or playing with a ball. 

  • Stay close and comfort your child when they feel scared or overwhelmed. Taking deep breaths together and counting slowly can help them calm down. Provide your child with a comfort object such as a pacifier, blanket or soft toy that helps them self-soothe and feel safe. 

  • Talk to your child about their feelings. Naming their emotions can help them feel understood and identify what they are feeling. Help them figure out if they feel scared, frustrated, tired or angry .

  • Create calm and predictable routines. Help your child know what to expect by creating habits such as having breakfast every morning and going to bed at the same time. Bring your traditions, faith, and culture into these routines. 

  • Set clear rules and expectations about your child’s behavior. Use simple language such as “no hurting” or “let’s clean up the blocks.” Model good behavior and reward your child’s efforts to follow family rules. 

  • Create a network of support for you and your child, and be a support for other parents. At some point we all need to ask for help. It’s good to talk to a trusted friend, faith leader or mental health professional about your situation. 

Strategies to Support a Child or Teen Who Has Experienced Violence

  • Healing begins with relationships. The adult helping relationship is the most powerful tool we have to assist kids in healing from traumatic events. Actively work on repairing or creating a supportive parent-child relationship through spending time together. 

  • Help children and teens know what to expect. Provide a highly structured and predictable home and learning environment for children. 

  • Let the child know that it is OK to talk about what has happened.  When children are ready, it helps to be able to talk about the violence in their lives with trusted adults. Answer questions honestly, without too many scary details. Find ways for teens to express feelings, i.e. writing, journaling, poems, art, etc. 

  • Find support for yourself. Getting help and the supports you need to be fully present and calm will help you more fully attend to your children’s needs. 

  • Foster children’s self-esteem. Children who live with violence need reminders that they are lovable, competent and important. Help them get involved with activities that they love and feel passionate about. Encourage participation in a range of extra-curricular activities such as music, sports, theater, art, volunteering, etc. Create opportunities to ‘make a difference’ by helping others or through part-time work or volunteering. 

  • Help them identify what makes them feel loved and validate their ideas. 

  • Challenge traditional gender roles and expectations. Educate yourself on gender pronouns and respect their identities. 

  • Pay close attention to non-verbal cues. Providing positive verbal reinforcement whenever possible. Remember to praise effort over outcomes.  

  • Give children and teens choices whenever possible. Allowing children and teens to feel in control can help alleviate feelings of being overwhelmed and restore a sense of safety.

  • Don’t try it alone. Identify and collaborate with other caregivers in the child or teen’s life. Such as teachers, coaches, extended family members, health care providers, mentors, and others. Help connect your teen with someone they trust. 

  • Teach alternatives to violence. Help kids learn conflict resolution skills and about non-violent ways of playing. 

  • Model nurturing in your interactions with children and teens. Serve as role models for children in resolving issues in respectful and non-violent ways. Model respect around other teens. Talk to teens about healthy relationships, consent, and help them understand the warning signs of an unhealthy dating relationship. 

  • Advocate for positive school experiences and accommodations if needed. 

  • Prioritize their boundaries, even the ones you don’t understand right away. 

  • Expect to practice these strategies again and again. 

Some of this content was adapted and reprinted from  The Child Witness to Violence Project, Boston Medical Center.