mother and son bump noses by sean dreilinger on flickr 9.9.2005By Marcia Bannister |

Part II | Tips for Processing and Healing

Domestic violence does not have to be a life-long haunting memory for children. Most children that have secure, healthy relationships with caring adults, whether it is their parents, grandparents, teachers, or other care providers, are able to overcome the memories. Families that participate in strength-based family services, such as Parents As Teachers family education, youth mentoring, or domestic violence advocacy, enhance their parenting skills and see positive outcomes. As a family member or friend, you can also be part of a child’s support system for when they are in tough situations. Susan Blumenfeld, Child Trauma Training Director at the National Center on Domestic Violence, emphasizes the importance of just being available to children that are coping with the effects of domestic violence, and gives some guidance on how to interact with a child coping with this experience.

Child Coping Method Proper Response
Show of anger or aggressive behaviors. Validate their feelings and assist them in labeling that particular feeling. “I see that you are angry right now, but hitting and kicking is not going to help me understand your feelings. Please calm down, and explain how I can help you.”
Withdraw and demonstrate sadness. Sit by themselves and have no interaction with others. A response to this behavior may be, “I understand that you may be sad or feel like no one understands, but please know that it is okay for you to feel this way. I will be here when you are ready to talk.”

In both of these situations, address the child by name in a calm and soothing voice. Some may allow you to touch them on the shoulder or on the hand. Ask permission before using this method as some of the fear or anger may stem from physical abuse. Ask the question, “What would help you feel safe right now?” Finally, Blumenfeld recommends using the “grounding technique” with adults or children to refocus, cope, and calm down. Using the body’s five senses, have them provide you with the following information:

  1. Five things they can see
  2. Four things they can touch
  3. Three things they can hear
  4. Two things they can smell
  5. One thing they can taste

This technique helps the individual focus on something else, allowing them a break from the thoughts that are associated with the abusive situation. If none of these techniques work for an individual, it is best to refer to mental health services for ongoing healing. Continue to be available for the child or adult. Coping with traumatic experiences can be a life-long process, but it does not have to limit a person from living a healthy, safe life.


Article originally published in Prevention Winter 2014 as part of Never Hit, But Deeply Harmed — Children and Domestic Violence two part series. Part I True Stories from Three Women Learn more from the Building Trauma-Informed Services for Children, Youth, and Parents Impacted by Domestic Violence materials and webinar series provided by the National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma, and Mental Health. Photo: sean dreilinger  

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