Establishing open communication and being available to listen and answer questions is the best way to help your children deal with what’s going on. Here are eight tips from The National Child Traumatic Stress Network and Futures Without Violence for discussing domestic violence with kids.

  1. Take the lead. Don’t wait for children to come to you; they’re likely scared and uncomfortable to bring the topic up, too.
  2. Start with a message of support. Try something like, “I care about you and I will listen to you.”
  3. Find out what they know. Ask your children what they’ve seen or what they understand about what’s happening at home.
  4. Show support. Acknowledge children’s feelings and their versions of events, which may not line up with what actually happened.
  5. Tell them it’s not their fault. Children are naturally self-centered and are likely to think they’re the reason for the violence. Assure them they are not.
  6. Tell them violence is not OK. It may feel hypocritical to say, but it’s still an important message to get across.
  7. Try to stay calm. Speaking confidently conveys a sense of security. If your children ask something you’re not comfortable answering right then, tell them it’s an important question and you need some time to think before you can answer. Most importantly, make sure you do get back to them.
  8. Don’t put any burden on them. Rely on other adults for support and avoid placing stress or worry on your children by discussing relationship or custody issues with them.

It’s OK to Ask for Help

If you’re still uncomfortable talking to your children about domestic violence, don’t be too hard on yourself.

“I would never want anyone to think that a parent should automatically know what to say,” Groves says. “This is why I think the role of external supports, whether it’s an advocate, a neighbor, a friend, a therapist—someone who can really help the non-abusing parent think through what they want to say to the child—are so important.”