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Unintended Victims: Diagnosis & Treatment of Children of Domestic Violence
Children of Domestic Violence continuing education social worker CEUs

Section 9
Raising Battered Women's Awareness of the
Impact of Abuse on Children

CEU Question 9 | CEU Answer Booklet | Table of Contents | Domestic Violence
Social Worker CEUs, Psychologist CEs, Counselor CEUs, MFT CEUs

The following is an outline that you can use with a group of battered women you are treating. Perhaps you can use these steps directly, or modify these steps to supplement a session you have already devoted to discussing the effects on the children of the battered women.

In this session participants will:
1. Recognize how children experience confusion related to the abuse of their mother and how their confusion is often similar to an abused woman’s.
2. Identify factors that contribute to the impact of abuse on children.
3. Understand the key issues for children in violent homes.
4. Process ideas on the needs of children living in violent homes.
5. Experience feelings that group members had as children in their family-of-origin settings.

Women have strong feelings about seeing their children being affected by abuse in the home. Consequently, they will often try to keep the abuse hidden. It seems, though, that no matter what a woman does to try to protect her children, kids know and often blame themselves for the abuse that is happening to their mother. This session will look at the experience of the child in an abusive home.

1. Check-In

2. Confusion and Children
Begin this session by talking about how abuse can be confusing for children in many of the same ways that it confuses women who are abused. Ask the members to think about the many times confusion has been mentioned and discussed in this group. Suggest that they think of their children’s confusion in some of the same ways as they see their own.

Communicate that abuse has a very confusing effect on children. Explain that two things are occurring simultaneously for children. They are being traumatized at some level while witnessing or listening to abuse towards their mother. At the same time, they are learning that people can get their way through the use of power and control. The following poem is an example of the confusion that children feel. Read this poem to the group and take time to discuss the group’s response.

My Daddy is a monster.
He hurts my mommy.
He hurts me too.
Sometimes he hits.
Sometimes he says things
That scare me and
Make my mommy cry.
After he leaves
Sometimes I wish he
Won’t come back. . . ever.
I love my daddy.

Communicate that there are many factors to be considered when thinking of the impact of abuse on children. Ask the group to think about what they have observed in their own children or what they remember in their own childhood experience related to abuse. Ask the group what they think about children learning these two messages at the same time. Ask for examples of this from their personal experience with their children or themselves.

3. Impact of Abuse on Children
Next, ask the group to brainstorm ways children might be affected by abuse. Expect to hear some of the following and write them on the chalkboard:
• Hidden scars
• Acting-out behaviors
• Ongoing tension in the home
• Withdrawal into self; isolation
• Mixed emotions about both parents
• Regression to bed-wetting, thumb-sucking
• Taking on adult responsibilities
• Trying to be perfect; causing no problems
• Becoming part of a conspiracy of silence
• Low self-esteem
• Waiting for abuse to happen again
• Using violence to solve problems
• Sleep disruption
• Feelings of guilt and shame
• Poor nutrition
• Under- or overachieving at school
• Concentration problems or
• Hearing degrading language and threats
behavior problems at school
• Seeing property destruction
• Depression and anxiety
• Living with bruises and tears
• Feelings of abandonment
• Fear of parents getting a divorce
• Self-blame
• Fear of dad going to jail
• Fear of mom being hurt

4. Key Issues for Children
Summarize the above list by communicating the following key issues for children in violence. Write on the chalkboard:
Children feel:
Powerless………because they can’t stop the violence.
Confused……… because it doesn’t make sense.
Angry………… because it shouldn’t be happening.
Guilty ………… because they think they’ve done something wrong.
Sad………………because it’s a loss.
Afraid………… because they may be hurt, they may lose someone they love, others may find out.
Alone………… because they think it’s happening only to them.6

Ask the group to discuss their feelings related to what children feel.

5. Key Needs of Children
Talk about what children in abusive homes need. Include the following in the discussion:
• To be listened to and believed
• To have a safe place to express their feelings
• To be told that they are not alone
• To be told the violence is not their fault
• To have support from family, friends, counselors, or all of these
• To learn that conflict can be resolved without abuse
• To develop their own personal power

6. Participants’ Feelings as Children
Finally, ask group members for their heartfelt thoughts about children. Ask them to think about when they were children and how the child within them felt about:
• How happiness was expressed in their family
• How sadness was expressed in their family
• How anger was expressed in their family
• How love or affection was expressed in their family

If there is time, pass out paper and crayons or markers to each group member. Ask group members to take a few minutes to draw a picture of a time or an event in their childhood involving their family. Suggest that they might want to think about sounds, smells, and expressions related to their families. Ask group members to share their pictures and to comment on how they felt while drawing, and how they think their children might be experiencing some of the same feelings. Encourage group members to imagine how the event they are drawing would have felt when they were children.

7. Closing
Suggest that one of the best things we can do for our children is to take care of ourselves. Ask group members to close with one way to take care of themselves this week.

1. Some group members will not have any children.
Most groups will have a few women who have never had children or parented children. Ask group members without children to think about their own childhood as they participate in this session, or about the children of friends or relatives who may be in abusive homes. If there are several group members without children, this session topic usually will not be selected.

2. Some group members believe that their children have not been affected by the abuse.
If overt abuse has never occurred in the children’s presence, it is easy for a group member to believe that the children are unaware of the abuse. Communicate that there is an underlying tension in abusive homes that few children will escape. Even if the child has not observed abuse directly, the child is aware of the covert abuse or the abuse that is more subtle and indirect. Counselors often hear from children that they know things their parents think are secrets. Also, adults frequently report that as children they were awakened in the night by the abuse and heard things that by day were not acknowledged in any way This became part of the conspiracy of silence for them.

3. Group members will state that they do not want their children to grow up being abused or abusive.
This is one of the most important hopes of abused women. They know the feelings of violation and wish that their children would never have the same experience. It is important to talk about how children learn from what they see and that, as parents, we are constantly modeling ways for our children to act. Growing up witnessing abuse does not mean children will grow up to be in abusive relationships, but they are at higher risk. Stress the points about what children in abusive homes need in order to address this issue.

4. Group members will request resources for their children to address the abuse.
Facilitators should be aware of community resources for children. If domestic abuse groups for children exist in your area, talk about them. Many group members are unaware of groups for children. Ask the group members about resources they may have used. The group often has a wealth of information about resources. Suggest contacting school counselors for information.

5. Some group members will want to discuss punishment or discipline of children in relation to acting-out behaviors.
Acknowledge that most children have some anger related to the abuse and that it can be difficult for parents to manage. Suggest that group members may want to get some parenting support but that, due to time constraints, addressing punishment and discipline in this group is not feasible. However, point out that you strongly advocate no hitting or spanking of children, as physical punishment tends to promote fear. Family Support Network (which has been called Parents Anonymous in the past) might be mentioned as one resource. You might also have some handouts or books you can offer that would be helpful for asking for more parenting information.

6. Drawing a picture of a childhood time or event with one’s family can evoke different feelings for group members.
When art therapy is used to address family of origin memories, feelings often surface. Be prepared particularly for feelings of sadness as the pictures are shared. In the interest of available group time, suggest that the group support each other during the break. If this does not feel as if it would work, take extra time to work through any feelings that arise.
- Fischer, Kay-Laurel & Michael F. McGrane, Journey Beyond Abuse, Amherst H. Wilder Foundation: Saint Paul, 1997.
The article above contains foundational information. Articles below contain optional updates.


Personal Reflection Exercise #3
The preceding section contained information about a group session of battered women assessing the effects of abuse on their children. Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 9
What are two consequences occurring simultaneously for children observing violence? Record the letter of the correct answer the CEU Answer Booklet.

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