Child's Play in Violent Families

(06/09/2016) Tim Hamilton

"One adult who lived at Safe Nest when she was eight, told me that her stay at shelter was the first time in her childhood she ever remembered feeling happy." ~Estelle Murphy, Executive Director of Safe Nest

Children are impacted by violence that happens in their enviornment.  They are most negatively impacted by violence between those they love in their immediate or extended families.  Even when this violence is happening while they are still in the womb, they are still affected by it. Children are much more susceptible to emotional currents in the air than are adults.

The earliest effects on the child can come into play in attachment bonds between child and mother that are negatively impacted by mom being required by her abuser to spend all of her energy on the abusers needs and not be allowed to attend to the child's needs.  This detrimental effect on the pattern of attachment bonding can affect the child's ability to trust in general and specific people.  It negatively flavors the sense of what relationship itself is when there is no experience of someone "having their back" an experience we all need to set up the basic ability to trust people at all.

This negative impact begins to show up as violent patterns being "copied" within interactons with siblings and or peers at school or daycare.  It may show up as self-directed or other directed aggression if not outright violence.  This activity may be delayed a bit if the child is trying, through their own force of effort, to manage the emotional climate at home, as children wont to do when they experience that somehow the violence is about them.  It will show up as difficulty with being frustrated in intentions toward some goal.

When the acting out behaviors of children do show up in a milieu where they require addressing by institutiaonl entitites, counseling is the preferred approach to use to address the behaviors.  Up to about the age of 12 years some form of play allows for articulation of the stressors that the child has been living with often for their whole life.  Children are freer to experess themselves, unconflicted by the restrains of social conformity and learning, and so this approach allows for much more to be expressed than adults or even by teens.  Whether this play is unstructured, as in the playground or video games, or structured, as in a therapy setting children learn by trial and error ways to navigate emotions.

Children act out, in a healthy fashion, when facilitated to do so, those stressors that they are sometimes unable to even let themselves become aware of in a violent setting within their family.  Whether in an outdoor or an indoor setting, with their peers or idividually, child's play gives them ability to get the stress out an dto heal from it in natural uncomplicated ways, which, if they are allowed to do so, will equip them to move into adult life in healthy productive ways.