Academic journal article Childhood Education

The Role of Teachers in Helping Children of Domestic Violence

Academic journal article Childhood Education

The Role of Teachers in Helping Children of Domestic Violence

Article excerpt

Looking across the sea of faces in his class, Mr. Benjamin spots 7-year-old Johnny with his feet on the chair seat, his knees close to his chest as he rocks repetitively. Without expression, he gazes at the classroom clock.

Timmy's oppositional behavior is a frequent source of frustration for his 5th-grade teacher. She has tried to be nurturing, suspecting that he has some kind of trouble at home, but he continues to show her disrespect. The teacher becomes confused when Timmy rapidly develops a friendship with her new teaching assistant, Robert, and begins responding to her requests by saying, "I don't have to do anything you say! I only have to listen to Robert!"

Anna is shy with her classmates, but she adores her teacher and works excessively hard to please her. After she returns from an absence of several days, her teacher inquires about where she has been. Anna's eyes widen, her body freezes, and she is silent.

Marcella's teacher wonders why Marcella seems so angry. The teacher has to watch her like a hawk because she bullies other children so much. Marcella becomes enraged if she so much as suspects that she has been insulted, yet she often calls herself stupid, worthless, or ugly.

These children appear so different from each other, yet they all live with the same frightening secret: Their mothers are routinely battered by intimate partners. Every day, these children fear witnessing their mother's abuse. Although many children suffer from this problem, the shroud of silence that surrounds domestic violence leads them to believe that they are alone.

What Is Domestic Violence?

Domestic violence may be defined as the systematic abuse by one person in an intimate relationship in order to control and dominate the partner. This pattern of behavior is learned, self-reinforcing, and more socially condoned than you might want to believe. Abusive behaviors can be physical emotional, mental, and sexual. Batterers also can use spiritual, social, and economic realms to control and dominate their partners, such as denigrating their partner's religious beliefs or withholding financial support in order to create dependency. Although men are not the only abusers, about 85 percent of the victims of intimate violence are women (Greenfield et al., 1998).

Domestic violence is a social issue. It afflicts persons of all socioeconomic categories and cultures (Greaves, Heapy, & Wylie, 1988). MacLeod (1987) reveals that least one in 10 Canadian women are abused by the man with whom they live. One in 14 marriages in the U.S. suffers from repeated, severe violence (Dutton, 1988). A review of the literature (Edleson, in press) cites substantiated estimates that, in the U.S., from 3.3 million to 10 million children are exposed to domestic violence each year. Approximately 3 to 5 children in every Canadian classroom will be exposed to domestic violence (Kincaid, 1982). Although such violence reaches across all socioeconomic strata, impoverished children have fewer means to escape its impact. They typically live in smaller dwellings, and so are more likely to experience the violence up close, and they lack the resources to find help or seek refuge.

Exposure to violence dramatically increases the potential for children to become victims or batterers as adults (Dutton, 1988; Strauss, Gelles, & Steinmetz, 1980). Table 1 shows how domestic violence affects children's feelings and perpetuates the cycle. Each violent act they witness harms or confuses children. Over time, they lose the meaning of morality and love. With proper intervention, however, children can learn to cultivate healthy relationships. Breaking the silence surrounding domestic violence and providing children with the skills needed to cope are the keys to ending this cycle.

The School's Role in Combating Domestic Violence

How can schools help? Often, they are the only emotionally and physically safe havens for children. …

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