Explaining Domestic Violence to Children
The last thing we want to think about is our own children having to deal with abuse ever, in any way. We want to protect them, keep them away from it as much as possible. This isn’t a bad thing, but it can often get uncomfortable when a kid asks a question that you know, in order to answer truthfully, you’d have to bring up domestic abuse. Like anything, it’s the kind of thing that can be explained well to children in a way they can understand, that can help them develop empathy as opposed to getting hurt.
In order to explain, I’m going to use some examples from a popular children’s show, a cartoon on Cartoon Network called Steven Universe, a show that’s commonly appreciated for bringing up controversial topics in a very relatable way. In an episode called “Same Old World,” Steven has to figure out what he can do to help Lapis, a friend they’d just gotten out an abusive situation. Rather than just tell you to go watch it and show it to your kids, I’m going to break down what it explained and how:
People might not be as okay as they act like they are, so just be there for them - At the beginning of the episode, Lapis tries to move on and act like the abuse she’d gone through had been just another adventure (something a lot of victims experience, by the way), but Stephen stumbles upon her upset about trying to find a place to fit in. One of the beautiful things about watching how kids interact with anyone they’re “supposed” to feel bad for is that they often just hug and talk about their broken crayon or whatever random things they come up with. As adults, it’s easy for us to overthink how to treat other people, especially when they’ve been abused, but the episode does a great job of showing what it looks like to just be there for someone.
Flashbacks and how overwhelming it can be to talk about them - When Steven and Lapis are flying around, looking for different places for her to stay, they pass over the area where she was kept underwater and tortured, and she starts having flashbacks as soon as she notices it. Lapis freezes, eyes wide, and her muscles loosen so much she almost drops Steven. When she starts to talk about her abuse, the ocean rises and crashes around them, matching her emotions. Kids are great, but sometimes they can ask one too many “why’s” or not understand someone’s reaction to the things they say. By helping someone understand how natural some of these reactions can be, they’re able to see that the reaction wasn’t necessarily caused by anything they “did wrong.”
Sometimes victims still feel like victims - On their way back, Lapis tells Steven that she’s still trapped the same way she was before. Not that she felt like she was, no - Lapis literally just says it casually: “I’m just still trapped, so.” Stephen hadn’t already realized that she hadn’t felt free, but he was able to show her that she was. It can be hard for anyone to realize that no matter how long it’s been, a victim might still feel attached at some level to their abuse.
There’s a difference between figuring things out for someone and equipping them to do it themselves - One of the most scarring things about abuse is that victims have gotten used to someone else controlling their decisions. Because of this, it’s important to do everything possible to help them get to a place where they can have that control back. Instead of just telling Lapis not to stress, worry, or focus on her issue, he showed her a way to get herself out of it and made sure she knew he’d love her the same amount no matter what she decided to do.
The thing is, abuse is awful, and we want to keep our kids away from it. But, when they eventually say something or ask something or ask someone else something, there’s no need to act like it doesn’t exist. If it’s knowledge you want to equip your kid with, do all the research and thinking you want to do beforehand, but don’t be afraid to do it.