Children in violent homes develop their own strategies against violence. A new book documents how children living in violent homes take an active role in surviving, preventing and coping with violence in everyday life.

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According to Aftenposten.no, the book "Violence in the home - children's strategies" (Norwegian) describes 25 children and young people who tell what it is like to live with gross and life-threatening violence over a longer period of time.

 

Children who are victims of violence find survival strategies

One of these is David (16). He lives in a world of violence. He has seen his mother beaten unhealthily by his stepfather. Every day, David must find ways to protect his mother, thereby endangering his own life. His everyday life is characterized by fear, stress and lack of presence and good times.

Researcher Carolina Øverlien at NKVTS (National Knowledge Center on Violence and Traumatic Stress) tells Aftenposten:

Children who experience domestic violence are not only victims, but also actors. In an everyday life characterized by violence, sometimes also sexual abuse and neglect, children develop strategies to master their lives.

She has written the book "Violence in the home - children's strategies", which was launched this autumn.

The book is first and foremost about what the children do before, during and after episodes of violence in their own home.

 

- Please do not kill her

Carolina Øverlien tells Aftenposten about the children who live with violence at home: 

They prevent the violence by enticing the father to direct the violence against themselves instead of against the mother, they calm and curb the father's aggression and they pretend to be ill, so they can be home from school and take care of the mother.

During the episode of violence, they protect their mother's body with their own, call the police or seek help from the neighbor, and make sure that younger siblings do not have to see and hear. When the episode of violence is over, they comfort their mother and siblings and make plans for what to do next time it happens.

Children do a lot to prevent violence. One strategy is that they take people home, in order to try to get the parents to argue less. In addition, children can stay awake, far beyond what is appropriate for their age, to "make sure" that there is no violence. All the children say that they put a lot of energy into "taking care of mum". The young people describe how they notice small changes in the home.

One of the children says that her way of calming down an abusive stepfather was to talk negatively about her mother, as well as to take the blame for everything.

During the actual episode of violence, the children intervene. David tells of when the stepfather threw his mother "from wall to wall" and he stands crying and watching.

I did not dare to do anything ... Yes, I dared to say: "Please, do not kill her ...." Then he let go of the roof around her ...

 

Warning signs that the child is experiencing violence at home

The following signs may indicate that the child is experiencing violence at home, although the same signs may also mean completely different things:

 

  1. Absenteeism or school refusal.

    The child wants to be at home to look after the mother, and thus cannot be at school at the same time.
  2. Parentification

    The child makes himself a reserve parent for his younger children, and does what he can to give them the safe childhood, which they themselves have been robbed of.
  3. Little contact with own needs.

    The child sets aside their own needs to take care of the mother so as not to perish in despair, and to prevent the father from becoming violent.
  4. Excessive sensitivity to changes in the mood of others

    Children become hypersensitive to the mood of others, as this is one of the survival strategies in relation to anticipating episodes of violence.
  5. Disorganized attachment pattern

    The child may develop a disorganized attachment pattern. This involves disturbed relationship patterns with other children / adults, and the use of inappropriate strategies.
  6. Trauma reactions

    The child lives in a constant trauma, where those who should be the child's safety (ie the parents), become the actual threat to the child. The child therefore goes on a constant alert-fight ("fight-or-flight" response), which over time can change the functioning of the brain. Traumatic reactions can manifest in the form of difficulty concentrating, impulsivity, hyperactivity, constant stress, behavioral disorders, anxiety, depression, and sleep problems.

 

However, these symptoms can also indicate other problems, so there is no automaticity in that they are related to violence. However, if many of the symptoms occur at the same time, and the difficulties persist over time and without obvious other causes, there is cause for concern.

Despite prolonged and gross violence, many experience that they never get in touch with child welfare or the police. They experience that the help agencies are there for the adults, and therefore they have to help themselves, says Carolina Øverlien.


  

Here are some stories

Aftenposten presents the following stories as excerpts from the book

 

  1. Sissel, 12 years:

    ... But then he took and stopped the car and threw her out and drove his way. She said that on the highway she had tried to escape from the car. He had taken her and slammed her head into the car door, several times. She had run her way, and he had pulled her by the hair. Then an old couple had driven past, and then he had gotten into the car and driven his way. The old couple had driven her home. Then she eventually came home and I slept. She had gone straight up to the room, and he had joined, of course. He had taken a rope, such a thick rope then, and wrapped it around her neck and tried to suffocate her, in bed, while he had beaten her several times ....

  2. Nazima, 11 years:

    I remember once, I do not remember how old I was, but I was a little smaller than I am now, when they argued. Then he was angry and so angry, and then he went into the kitchen ... Then my mother sat in the living room and so did we. And then mom held a cup, and then he was very angry. Then he said to mum, why did you break it (the teapot), but it was not hers, so he threw it straight to the ground so it hit the cup, and then I do not know exactly how it happened, but it broke or broke, and then she was cut by that cup. Then there was blood on the walls, and then he had to take her to the doctor, and then mom said she wanted to get divorced ....

  3. Grace, 17 years:

    It was one night, it was around 2 or 3. I slept, but then I heard my mother screaming. She said "release me, do not touch me." Then I just jumped out of bed and ran to the kitchen. Then I saw that he had put his arms around her neck, and she screamed and screamed. Then I shouted at him, "Let her go, let her go," and he just looked at me and did nothing. He just kept going, and while Mom was screaming and I was screaming, we woke my little sister. Then she came, and when she saw it, she started screaming and collapsed and did not know what to do, and then he stopped ...

 

Many are reluctant to report concerns

The young people's stories show that they are so much more than just passive victims of the violence they are exposed to. These are strong, abusive children and young people who are actively trying to limit the violence they and their mothers are exposed to.

What can we learn from the children's stories?

A lot. Among other things, that we must never fail to say when we see a child in pain. Unfortunately, the thought of blaming adult caregivers for something they have not done is far worse than risking an abused child not receiving the help he or she so desperately needs. We must stop thinking of this as an indication, says Anne Lindboe.

Child psychologist Magne Raudalen says this:

These children are not only terrorized by the man in the family, they are also let down and betrayed by mothers who return and return. Many of the children's stories give only one association, namely war. And there is war, but there are no escape routes.

 

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Written by

ove heradstveit

Ove Heradstveit

Psychologist, specialist in clinical community psychology. PhD.
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