These books are here to help get the conversation started
Domestic violence is an unfortunate part of our lives and the lives of our children. After the shock has worn off, it’s time to start talking to your child about what he or she may or may not have witnessed. Conversation combined with reading can help children learn to identify the triggers or situations in which domestic violence may be present. And, more important, reading a story of how another child came forward and sought help may encourage other children to do so, too.
Children talk to one another about these situations, and although it may be uncomfortable to discuss, it is very important that your children feel comfortable talking to you about what they may hear in school or at a friend’s house.
“Talking to children about domestic violence is important for a variety of reasons,” says Jhumka Gupta, an assistant professor in the Department of Global and Community Health at George Mason University. “Talking about domestic violence can help children learn about what is acceptable and what is not acceptable in relationships, further laying the groundwork for their own adult relationships.”
This list is a good place to begin when looking for a book to start the discussion with your child. Because domestic violence is a very sensitive subject, it is recommended that you read these books first to be prepared for any questions that may arise. Gupta reminds us: “You have the opportunity to help prevent violence in your child’s future relationships.”
1. Mommy’s Black Eye
By William George Bentrim
Bearly Tolerable Publications, 2012
As a former teacher and guidance counselor, and as a current parent and grandparent, Bentrim uses his life experience with children and counseling to put together a story that speaks to children. This 30-page book is definitely geared toward younger children who have not been exposed to the topic of domestic violence before. It glosses over some of the bigger issues but keeps the focus on those of the preschool age.
The children in the story don’t witness any violence; they just see the aftermath of a black eye on their mother. The conclusion of the book is very open-ended with discussion of counseling and potential healing as a family. For this age range, it is a very appropriate introduction to the topic and helps build awareness.
2. A Family That Fights
By Sharon Chesler Bernstein
Albert Whitman & Company, 1991
Bernstein opens the book by explaining the difference between family disagreements and family violence. The children depicted in the book show emotions that children reading can easily identify with: embarrassment, fear, and helplessness. This book is geared toward early elementary–aged children—those in kindergarten through fourth grade—who may have a rudimentary understanding of violence, though probably not much regarding domestic violence.
Educators and social workers could benefit from sharing this book with children to teach them about other families or even show them that they are not alone, that other families fight as well. The conversation that stems from reading or listening to this book read aloud can help a child learn to express his or her thoughts and fears to a trusted adult.
This is another book that is great for early elementary–aged children. Davis takes her personal experience with domestic violence to make sure parents, educators, and caregivers know that children understand and experience these fights. They watch and learn from their parents, like the child in the book, who eventually seeks and obtains help. Available in both Spanish and English, this book has lots of illustrations coupled with detailed information to span the early-elementary age range.
Davis wants to make sure children know they are not to blame in these situations. She also wants to stop the cycle of domestic violence. Through her education, employment, and volunteer work, Davis has gained a diverse background in helping children and families work through these issues.
4. Hear My Roar: A Story of Family Violence
By Gillian Watts
Annick Press, 2009
Adapted from a classic picture book, this novel tells a story of family violence. A family of bears experiences good times and bad times, often very close together. Alcohol plays a part in the depression and anger of the father, and eventually the mother and child seek help from the family doctor. Like other books geared for this age range (grades one through four), some parts will seem simplistic to the adult reader.
Papa Bear immediately seeks help when Mama Bear leaves to go to a shelter, which may lead younger children to think their parent will also “get better” quickly and their family will be reunited. Though a note in the book says this is just one example of a family in a violent situation, children might immediately cling to the hope of reconciliation once presented.
5. The Day My Daddy Lost His Temper
By Dr. Carol Santana McCleary
This book in the Empowering Kids series is told from the perspective of a young child who witnessed domestic violence. The intent of this book, just like others in the domestic-violence genre, is to help children express themselves after an event. Listening to another’s story is very helpful when you want to speak but are unable to find the words. The downside to this book is that it focuses on a father who loses his temper instead of making it about any parent in general. Children like to see or hear a story that closely mimics their own life so they can easily identify with it. For those with an abusive male in their life, this book would fit well.
McCleary is a licensed clinical psychologist who works regularly with children and adolescents, helping them through all types of physical and emotional trauma. This series covers many topics that Solo Moms may want assistance with, including gender identification, separation anxiety, and even terrorism.
No matter the reason why you want to educate your children about domestic violence, these five books are a great place to start. Perhaps your journey included domestic violence, or you want your child to be more aware of what other families may be experiencing. These books show a variety of views and ways for children to express their feelings.
Rebecca Alwine is a freelance writer, army wife, and mother of three. Her writing experience includes military-family topics, research pieces, guest blogging, and much more. She’s a contributing writer for ARMY magazine and a regular contributor to several online publications, including the Homefront United Network, PCSgrades, and ESME. She also has been published in Ms. magazine and the Atlantic. You can follow her online at www.whatrebeccathinks.com and on Twitter and Instagram.