Growing up in an environment of fear and domestic violence takes a toll on children.

They see and hear the abuse of a parent, and sometimes their pets, and are exposed to threats of harm in the one place they are meant to feel safe – their home.

They may feel guilty for being unable to protect their parent, blame themselves for the abuse, or even step in to try and stop the violence.

When children experience this sort of trauma, their bodies, brains and behaviour adapt in an effort to protect them.

This can cause changes in their behaviour that may be confusing and distressing for parents.

Kay Buckley is a Family Relationship Educator at Centacare and delivers the Keeping Families Safe workshop.

The aim is to empower parents to understand their child’s behaviour, strengthen their relationship and support the child’s healing in the wake of domestic violence.

“When children have experienced trauma, parenting strategies that were used before might not work so well anymore,’’ Kay said.

“If parents don’t understand why, they may misinterpret their child’s behaviour and wind up feeling frustrated, helpless and resentful.’’

At the workshop, parents learn how trauma effects brain development and the way a child responds to the world.

“Perhaps their child is withdrawn or is being overly perfect because they are too frightened to make a mistake,’’ Kay said.

“It might be that school says your child has slipped back a bit and we are not quite sure what’s going on.’’

More overt behaviours could include giving up easily, being abusive towards a parent, and fighting with their peers.

“If you’ve had to manage domestic conflict all of your little life, you are on high alert all the time; it’s exhausting,’’ Kay said.

At the workshop, parents are empowered to:

  • Identify triggers and recognise patterns of behaviour
  • Respond and not react
  • Observe without judgement
  • Set realistic expectations for their child and the parent/child relationship
  • Focus on their own healing as well as their child’s

For more information about this course, phone Centacare 8215 6700.