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Our Children Are Wounded:
The Effects of Domestic Violence on Children

In Chapter One we are introduced to Sheila, mother of eight-year-old Brandon and six-year-old Jennifer. Sheila rushes to get the kids home and get dinner ready for her volatile, abusive husband Tom.

The water is boiling, the kids are running around the house, the laundry isn’t folded; she hears the key turn in the front door… all hell’s going to break loose but maybe the children won’t see it happen…

Sheila and her children live in fear of Tom’s volatile temper and violent outbursts. This chapter paints the picture, and goes on to discuss the effects of this scenario on the children.

We must realize that even if we shut the door or go into another room our children hear, feel and know that harm is being done to a person they deeply love… we must recognize that our children are wounded, even if they never see the violence or are never hit themselves.

The Chapter goes on to help the adult victim (Sheila in the story) understand and accept that this is NOT okay, it’s NOT her fault, and that staying does NOT protect the children. That she can do something to change this picture.

Understanding Children’s Behavior

The primary objective of Chapter Two is to address the effects of domestic violence on children. In addition, the chapter tries to portray a sense of the enormity of the victim’s burden

Leaving an Abusive Home: Fear, Grief, and Loss

Deciding to leave can be very difficult. Chapter Three attempts to convey a sense of how hard it is to keep things in perspective when being affected by a violent, controlling abuser, and to help the victim envision a way out.

For twelve years Tom has been telling Sheila that she can’t make it on her own; he has threatened to kill her; he has threatened to take the children… When Sheila’s children beg her not to leave for fear of her being killed, this is the time for her to pull together all the strength she has inside…

A great burden is lifted when the family moves out to a shelter, but there is also tremendous grief for the children over the loss of a parent. They still need and love both parents, even the one who is violent and abusive.

Brandon and Jennifer feel so happy and free. They can talk at dinner, they can laugh, they can eat without feeling fear… But Jennifer feels sad and lonely, she misses Daddy picking her up, kissing her and saying, “How’s my little princess?”… Brandon gets mad at Sheila more often now. He says things like, “Where’s Dad? You can’t throw the baseball as good as him. I miss Daddy. Can’t we go home?”

How to Talk and Be With Our Children:
Healing Wounds, Rebuilding Relationships

Although leaving the abusive home takes tremendous courage and resolve, one of the most difficult tasks is rebuilding relationships with the children and helping them heal from the wounds of the abusive home. Chapter Four introduces this issue and discusses ways to approach the healing process.

Brandon is lying on his bed sobbing. Sheila sits down and rubs his back… After a while he calms down. “Why can’t we see Dad?” he asks. “I miss him.” This is such a difficult question for Sheila. She doesn’t want to “bad mouth” Tom to the kids but she wants them to understand that they are better off away from him. She reminds herself of what she has learned about validating their feelings and not feeling obligated to have an explanation or answer for their questions…

“I know you miss your Dad, but right now we can’t see him. The most important thing is for you to always tell me how you’re feeling so I can understand what you’re going through. Tell me more about how it feels to you to be missing Daddy so much.” Brandon starts sobbing again. “I hate you Mom!” he yells through his sobs. “I hate you for taking Daddy away!” He buries his head in the pillow and sobs uncontrollably…

You and your children have the right to a life free of abuse. No matter what feelings you have for the abuser, it is unhealthy for your children, and for you, to stay in an abusive home.

If the issues and story in this book remind you of your family, your children, yourself, please remember that you are not alone. You can get the help and support you need to give yourself and your children a better life.

If you need help, please call the number below for support and direction to resources in your area.

National Domestic Violence Hotline:
1-800-787-3224 (TTY)

About The Author

Julianne Leavy

Julianne Leavy received her BA in Speech Communication from San Diego State University in 1986, and her MA in Clinical Psychology with Expressive Art Therapy from JFK University in Campbell, California in 1996. She also served as a part-time instructor at JFK University, teaching workshops on working with children victims of domestic violence.

From 1993-96 Ms. Leavy worked with children, couples, and families as a counselor trainee in the John F. Kennedy Community Counseling Center and for the Cupertino Unified School District.

Ms. Leavy worked with the YWCA of Monterey County since 1996 in various capacities. Her work has included involvement with the battered women’s shelter, domestic violence community outreach, teen counseling programs, and new program development. She developed the very successful Sticks & Stones® programs, providing counseling and support for children exposed to domestic violence, and to families wherein children are living with relatives other than their biological parents.

Ms. Leavy counsels families, couples, teenagers, and children in her private practice as a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFT), with a focus on domestic violence issues, parent education, children of divorce, grief work, and eating disorders.