More than five million children are exposed to physical domestic violence each year. We know from the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study that for 95% of children exposed to domestic violence there is also substance abuse, mental illness, neglect, abuse or incarceration within their home.
Domestic violence can teach children negative and harmful lessons:
Violence is normal: We hurt the people we love; we hurt people when we are angry; we hurt people to get something we want.
Conflict is resolved by violence: We do not talk about problems or solve disagreements; we get what we want at the expense of another; we can use force, coercion or manipulation to harm.
Abuse should be kept secret: We do not talk about this to anyone; we pretend it didn’t happen; we lie about it; we think it is our fault.
Negative behavior can be excused: We are not responsible for our own behavior; we can blame others when violence happens; we can use anger, stress, alcohol or drugs as an excuse for hurting another person.
Statistically, we will all come into contact with children who are exposed to domestic abuse. As adults, we need to counteract the lesson of domestic violence with kindness, empathy, trust and compassion. We don’t expect children to know math BEFORE we teach them math. We need to help children develop healthy skills, such as conflict resolution, problem solving, emotion regulation and calming strategies. Most importantly, we need to model and encourage healthy relationships.