How to help your child
Your instinct is probably to try to get your child out of their relationship as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, ending an abusive relationship is never as easy as simply leaving and efforts to make your child’s decision on their behalf could isolate them further.
The best support you can offer is motivated by unconditional love and trust that they are capable of making their own decisions.
Here are some tips to keep in mind when trying to support your child:
- Listen & give support.
Be supportive and non-accusatory in conversations about your child’s relationships. Reassure them that their partner’s behavior is not their fault and that no one deserves to experience abuse. If they open up, it’s essential to be a good listener so that they feel comfortable returning to you for help.
If they don’t open up, don’t be disappointed, blame them, or overreact. Let them talk to you on their own terms and meet them with understanding when they do.
- Accept what your child is telling you.
Believe your child, even if what they tell you is hard to hear. Your child will likely be reluctant to share experience out of fear of how you’ll react. Showing skepticism could make them less likely to share things about their life, and ultimately drive them closer to the person abusing them. Offer your unconditional support and make sure they know you believe them.
- Show concern.
Let your child know that you’re concerned for their safety by centering their experience in your conversation. Remind them that they deserve to be treated with respect and that abuse is not their fault.
- Focus on behaviors, not the person involved.
Remember that your child may still have feelings for the person who’s harming them. Speaking badly about their partner could discourage your child from seeking your help in the future. Discuss the abusive behaviors you observe, not your feelings about the people involved.
- Avoid ultimatums.
Your child has the right to make their own decisions. Resist the urge to give them ultimatums or punish them for making decisions about their abusive relationship that you dislike. If you force the decision, they may feel further isolated and return to their abusive partner. Trust that your child knows their own situation better than you do, and that they’ll make the decision to leave when they’re ready.
- Be prepared.
Educate yourself on dating abuse to help your child identify warning signs of unhealthy behaviors in their relationship and discuss what healthy relationships can look like. Identify relationships in your family that exemplify these qualities and help them understand the ways you can support them.
Remember that leaving an abusive relationship is the most dangerous period of time for survivors and work with your child to create a safety plan that fits their situation.
- Decide on next steps together.
The final decision about what to do has to come from your child themselves. Ask what next steps they’d like to take and help them find support to do so, including additional support if they’re too uncomfortable discussing the situation with you.
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