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Building Resiliency: How to Support Children Exposed to Violence at Home

Oct 17, 2019
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Intimate partner violence can be physical, emotional, verbal, sexual or financial abuse toward a partner in an effort to gain power and control. When this happens at home, it affects more than just the immediate victim. If children are present to see or hear this behavior, it takes a toll on their healthy development unless they receive support to help them cope and heal.

Children exposed to violence in the home may experience issues with attachment, school engagement, academic success, healthy relationships and parenting their own children in the future.

It’s important to know that even if a child has witnessed violence at home, they can still live successful, healthy lives as adults. This begins with resilience. Resilience is the capacity to confront and cope with life’s challenges, or to maintain well-being in the face of adversity. And the great thing is, we can all develop resilience as we grow older.  

How does a child build resilience? There are two critical factors, derived from the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study:

  • The presence of a caring, stable adult
  • Being raised in a safe, stable and nurturing environment

According to the film Resilience: The Biology of Stress & the Science of Hope, two main approaches that are most effective include working with parents directly and intervening early with children who have experienced toxic stress or trauma.

“By using techniques to allow them [children] to express what their worries are and their daily stress, to lower their experienced stress, we are going to be able to help them maintain their resilience. And that’s our goal.” – Dr. David Johnson, Clinical Psychologist, Post-Traumatic Stress Center

How Can You Help?

The most important thing we can do is to help a child feel safe. Here are a few simple ways to build resiliency at home:

  1. Establish routines. These can help to reassure children, especially if they are struggling with change. Examples of healthy routines include reading together for 20 minutes every day and establishing set times for meals, play and naps. Other helpful ways to build resiliency include giving them opportunities to think and act independently, which can be as simple as letting a child choose what movie they want to watch. Providing a child with options is key in helping them to develop independence.
  2. Determine safety. Ask your child who they feel comfortable talking to if they are worried or concerned about themselves or someone else. A helpful and fun tool to use with your child is Lauren’s Kids Trusted Triangle worksheet, which helps children name three “grown up buddies” that make them feel safe.
  3. Build confidence. Praise your child with specific feedback that highlights them as unique individuals. This helps increase their self-esteem, which is an essential steps for creating self-regulation skills. Remind them that they are safe, loved and important.

Consider writing “Kudos Notes” to a child, which are letters of appreciation that identify and increase the behavior that we want to see more often. Use these notes to recognize effort and performance. Be sure to focus on a child’s positive or desirable behavior. This allows a child’s brain to memorize that behavior and repeat it in the future.

We all have a role to play in helping children heal and build resilience. Anyone has the ability to be an advocate and build positive connections.

If you know a child who may have been abused or exposed to family violence, The Center for Family Safety and Healing at Nationwide Children’s Hospital offers a range of office and community-based counseling services to children and their families. Call 614-722-8200 to learn about next steps.

For more information about behavioral health programs and services in Ohio, click here.

Featured Expert

Lynn Rosenthal
Lynn Rosenthal
The Center for Family Safety and Healing

Lynn Rosenthal is the president of The Center for Family Safety and Healing (TCFSH), which takes an integrated team approach to breaking the cycle of family violence and child abuse.

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700 Children’s features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.