Tips for Supporting Children Through Domestic Abuse

When you’re a parent in an abusive or unhealthy relationship, a tough situation is even more complicated. Not only must you consider your own safety, you also need to consider what’s best for your child.

Also, being a witness to domestic or dating violence can have a long-lasting impact on children, physically, emotionally, and socially. But you can take control by helping your children develop resiliency. Continue reading for tips on what you can do and if you’re involved in an unhealthy or abusive relationship, remember help is available.

Relationship Abuse with Children Involved

Abusive behavior is often about power, control, and manipulation. Unfortunately, when kids are involved, an abusive partner may try to use them against you. For example, your abuser may threaten to do or actually do the following:

  • Abuse your child.

  • Not bring your children back after visitation or refuse to let you see them.

  • Call immigration or the police to try to take custody of your children.

  • Humiliate you in front of your child.

  • Use your child to check up on you.

  • Lie to your children to turn them against you.

What Can You Do?

Even though you may recognize your need to leave this relationship, you may not want to take access to this person away from your child completely. This is especially true if you have a child with your abuser and your abuser has not been abusive toward your child. Whether or not you are ready or able to leave, there are steps you can take to keep your child safe:

  • Have an age-appropriate conversation with your kids about bullies, sexual predators, and dating violence.

  • Make sure your child knows the abuse isn’t their fault and violence is never okay, even when someone they love is being abusive.

  • Introduce your children to the idea of therapy.

  • As much as possible, avoid burdening your kids with your emotional trauma. Find a therapist to help with this.

  • Keep your eyes open for signs and symptoms of abuse and report any allegations or proof of sexual or physical violence as soon as you see it.

  • Create a new safety plan with your children. Make sure they know what they can do if they feel afraid or unsafe anywhere, including while at your abuser’s house. But rather than singling out your abuser, create a safety plan for your home, the babysitter's, grandma's, their friend's, and your abuser's. Make it a general "what to do if I am scared," then practice it with them.

  • Talk to an attorney about your state’s custody laws. Consider filing for a protection order. It may award you temporary custody of your children and help with your longer-term plans.

  • Forgive yourself 100% for times when your home wasn’t a safe space for your kids.

You may feel helpless watching your children go back into your abuser’s home or spending time alone with him or her. But for your own physical and mental health, it’s important not to allow yourself to remain attached to your abuser through the children. Healing from abuse means finding the power not to be a victim anymore. Give yourself what you need, while supporting your children in what they need.

Every family needs support from time to time. Everyone deserves love, support, and respect in their relationships. If you need to talk, contact Sabrina Bristo, Project Coordinator/Advocate at the Durham Crisis Response Center, at (919) 560-8947 or email her at