We want our loved ones to feel safe and supported in relationships. Sometimes, it can be hard to know when behavior crosses the line into abuse. Most people think of domestic violence as physical abuse, including kicking or hitting, but that’s not the whole picture. It’s important to think of domestic violence as behavior that limits safety, choice, or connection with others, or creates fear. The goal of these behaviors is to have power and control over their partner.
Domestic violence has an impact on the whole family, including children. A parent may directly harm children by hitting or name-calling. They may indirectly harm children by attacking the other person’s parenting or disrupting daily life. This can affect a child’s sense of safety and attachment, and their ability to regulate their emotions. A protective parent is a caregiver who does not use violence and seeks to reduce harm for children exposed to family violence. Supporting a protective parent can help decrease isolation and increase safety for the family.
Here are five ways to support protective parents:
Recognize the signs of domestic violence.
You may see different signs, such as isolation, anxiety, or changed behavior around the abusive person. Listen and remember that it may be difficult for your loved one to discuss abuse.
Here are some common phrases used to discuss abuse:
“They want things to be a certain way…”
“He is in charge of the…”
“We aren’t allowed to…”
Let them know that the abuse is not their fault.
Protective parents often share that they feel responsible for the abuse, even though we know that is not the case. If someone discloses abuse to you, it’s important to be supportive in your response.
Here are some examples of supportive responses:
“You and the children deserve to be safe and nurtured.”
“His choices to harm you and the children are his own.”
“Abusing you is a harmful parenting choice.”
Validate the impact of abuse on the family.
You may hear information about the impact of abuse on your loved one, the children and the overall dynamics of the family. It can be validating for you to reflect the information that you hear back to the protective parent.
Here are some examples of what you can say to validate the impact of abuse:
“It sounds like his behavior is disrupting the routine.”
“Thank you for telling me about his actions that led to….”
“I didn’t realize that they were keeping you from...”
Acknowledge their protective actions.
Domestic violence may include attacks on the protective parent’s character and behavior. This can lower self-esteem and make it more challenging to access the parts of the brain needed for planning. Acknowledgement of their strategies for safety can be a protective factor.
Here are some ways to acknowledge protective actions:
“I see how hard you’ve been working to…”
“Your children are lucky to have a parent who is focused on their safety.”
“I can see the strength it took to do that for the children.”
Connect them with resources.
Ask how you can support the protective parent as they navigate their experiences. Share information about local domestic violence agencies that provide safety planning, advocacy, counseling or support groups. If you need to connect with child protective services, it’s important to focus on who is creating the patterns of abuse and the impact on the children.
If you are in an emergency situation, or witness an emergency, please always call 911. The phone numbers below are resources available to victims, survivors and bystanders of abuse, but should not replace 911.
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