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Battered Women's Awareness of the
Impact of Abuse on Children
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.
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 womans.
2. Identify factors that contribute to the impact
of abuse on children.
3. Understand the key issues for children in violent
4. Process ideas on the needs of children living in violent homes.
Experience feelings that group members had as children in their family-of-origin
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.
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 childrens
confusion in some of the same ways as they see their own.
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 groups response.
Daddy is a monster.
He hurts my mommy.
He hurts me too.
Sometimes he says things
That scare me and
Make my mommy cry.
Sometimes I wish he
Wont come back. . . ever.
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.
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:
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
Becoming part of a conspiracy of silence
Waiting for abuse to happen again
to solve problems
Feelings of guilt and
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
Fear of parents getting a divorce
Fear of dad going to jail
Fear of mom being hurt
Key Issues for Children
Summarize the above list by communicating the following
key issues for children in violence. Write on the chalkboard:
they cant stop the violence.
it doesnt make sense.
shouldnt be happening.
they think theyve done something wrong.
its a loss.
because they may be
hurt, they may lose someone they love, others may find out.
because they think its happening only to them.6
group to discuss their feelings related to what children feel.
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
have support from family, friends, counselors, or all of these
that conflict can be resolved without abuse
To develop their own personal
6. Participants Feelings as Children
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
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.
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.
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 childrens 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.
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.
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
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 ones family can evoke different feelings for
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.
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.
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.
What are two consequences occurring simultaneously for children observing
violence? Record the letter of the correct answer the .