Some tips for parents of babies and toddlers for families that have experienced domestic violence or abuse.
Sometimes people think babies won’t notice domestic violence, but that is not true. Babies brains make many connections, and they need good experiences to make good connections. They also need a parent who feels safe and secure and can give them attention and time. That might be hard when you are feeling stressed yourself and life has not been kind to you.
What you might see in babies:
- They may be clingy and cranky.
- They may have trouble sleeping (or sleep too much).
- They may be fussy and hard to comfort.
- They may have trouble relaxing and playing.
What can you do to help your baby?
- Try to help yourself be calm and feel better so that your baby can sense that you are no longer so upset.
- Talk to a close friend or a professional about how you are feeling.
- Play with your baby.
- Have routines, because this helps everyone feel safer.
- Talk, talk, and talk to your baby to increase their brain development and language skills.
- Read to your baby, because reading helps even very young infants to develop social, emotional, language, and thinking skills.
- Use every bit of patience you have to soothe your baby during difficult times, and if you find yourself losing patience, ask for help.
Toddlers are at a very special age. They are not babies or preschoolers. They have ideas about saying “no” and can seem to “push your buttons.” Toddlers are starting to learn more self-control. Over the next few years, they will learn to be toilet trained, talk in full sentences, and play with friends.
If toddlers see out-of-control adults, they may get overwhelmed and scared. They may often look sad or have an even shorter attention span than you might expect. They may have a hard time listening to adults and seem disobedient. They may need extra opportunities to help their development get to where it should be.
What behaviors might toddlers have?
- They may be irritable and cranky and cry more than usual.
- They may stop doing things you thought they already learned. For example, if they were sleeping through the night, they might now wake up.
- They may not listen to you and might run away from you.
- They may do things even when you say no.
- They may refuse to leave you or refuse to go with you when you pick them up after they were away from you.
- If they go to child care, you may hear from teachers that your child has behaviors such as hitting friends or saying no to sharing.
How can you help your toddler?
- Try to remain as calm as you can with your child. Since your child has lived through violence, your child could be easily scared.
- Take time to play with your toddler. Even 10 minutes of playing a day will help your child listen to you.
- Routines can help calm your child. Try to do the same things every night at bedtime and in the morning. Think of additional routines, such as reading, that you can do with your child every day.
- If you see a problem or hear that your child is having trouble at child care, ask a professional or child care worker for assistance.
- It may look like your toddler knows what you want and can listen, so it can be annoying when your toddler does something even if you have already said no! But no matter how smart they are, toddlers often forget things.
- Talk to your toddler as much as you can – even talk about the everyday things you are doing around the house.
- Try to set up your house so it is as safe as possible. This will reduce the times you have to tell your toddler no.
- Be sure to make time to kiss and hug your toddler. Affection is very important.
The content of this post was developed in collaboration between Solid Ground’s Broadview program staff with consultant Lenore Rubin, PhD. Lenore is a child psychologist and an expert in helping children and families to thrive after experiencing trauma.
Domestic Violence Help in Seattle/King County
Call 206.299.2500 for Solid Ground’s confidential Domestic Violence shelter services and/or 2.1.1 toll-free at 1.800.621.4636, M-F, 8am-6pm for info about all King County resources.
National Domestic Violence Hotline
1.800.799.7233 or TTY 1.800.787.3224
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